President Clinton urges Congress to pass hate crimes bill
GOP aides predict legislation will pass House, but won't become law
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton on Wednesday made one last appeal to Congress to pass hate crimes legislation before the end of the congressional session.
"With all our technological developments," Clinton remarked, "we are still plagued by mankind's largest failing: the fear of the other."
Clinton calls on Congress to vote in favor of the federal hate crimes legislation
The president praised senators on both sides of the political aisle for passing that chamber's version of the bill last June, saying that "this is not a bipartisan issue."
"It is just not true that hate crimes are like every other crime. It is not true that every crime is a hate crime. And that is at the very heart of this debate," he said, as he called on the House to pass the bill before members return to the campaign trail.
The current bill contains language that would add crimes motivated by sexual orientation, gender or disability to the existing law. It also would permit federal prosecutors to pursue a hate crime case if local authorities failed to act, and provide additional funds for local officials who are investigating a hate crime.
The House is currently weighing whether to vote on a motion to add the hate crimes bill to the defense spending bill now pending in Congress.
The president made his remarks during a White House event convened for the release of a new Justice Department report indicating that hate crime information is often not forwarded to the FBI.
The report also asserts that victims of hate crimes tend not to report them and sometimes police lack sufficient training to handle such cases.
As a result of the report's findings, Clinton said he would direct Attorney General Janet Reno to coordinate with state and local authorities over the next 90 days on a plan to improve hate crimes reporting.
"America must finally be rid of this virus and Congress must act to make sure this happens," Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder said.
Based on surveys of law enforcement organizations all over the country, the Justice Department report found that 83 percent of the more than 10,000 law enforcement agencies that participate in the FBI's hate crime data collection program said no hate crimes had taken place in their jurisdictions in the previous year.
In addition to Justice Department officials, the president was joined at the White House event by the widow of Ricky Byrdsong, a former Northwestern University basketball coach killed in a 1999 hate-motivated shooting rampage, and Laramie, Wyoming, police investigator David O'Malley, who investigated the 1998 slaying of gay college student Matthew Shepard -- and has since become a vocal advocate for hate crimes prevention laws.
"Matthew gave up his wallet after one hit, one time," said the soft spoken police investigator as he called on Congress to pass hate crimes legislation. "Robbery as a motive was exhausted early on. Hatred was the motive."
But those on Capitol Hill opposed to the legislation believe just the opposite.
"Murder is murder," said Michelle Davis, press secretary for Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. Opponents say that crimes associated with hate do not need a special classification.
Republican aides predict that federal hate crimes legislation will pass the House on Wednesday, but said the measure, sought by Democrats, is largely symbolic and carries no weight.
The aides said they expect some Republicans to vote for it -- despite the
opposition of GOP leaders -- because it is non-binding and therefore not as
politically potent. But they said Democrats won't collect much political
capital from the issue.
"Most people who support this extremist language already vote
Democratic," said Davis.
Rep. Barney Frank, D-Massachusetts, is expected to introduce the motion Wednesday afternoon. Specifically, it will instruct House Republicans negotiating with Senate Republicans in the defense authorization bill conference committee to add the measure so it mirrors language already in the Senate version.
"The arguments against this kind of legislation are not
persuasive," said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart. If the
legislation fails to pass, Lockhart said, "we're going to keep
working on this."
CNN Capitol Hill Producer Ted Barrett and The Associated Press contributed to this report.