This vote was on adopting a conference report on a bill that would fund Defense Department programs in fiscal 2010. A conference report represents the text of a deal reached between the House and Senate when each chamber passes a different version of the same bill.
The measure would authorize $680 billion for defense programs, including about $130 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It would authorize a pay raise for military personnel, and prohibit detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from being transferred to the United States until the president submits a plan to Congress.
The measure also would extend federal hate crimes laws to cover any offenses motivated by a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or disability, as well as prohibiting attacks on military personnel based on their military service.
Republicans opposed its inclusion, suggesting they took particular offense that it was included in a bill that authorizes funding for soldiers. In the past conservatives have opposed hate crimes laws because they say it places a higher value on some lives than others. Some Democrats, particularly those who represent Midwestern and Southern states, also have opposed expanding hate crimes law to cover sexual identity.
“The language has been written to ensure that it does not intrude on first amendment rights, that State and local law enforcement retain primary jurisdiction over investigations and prosecutions. It would punish violent acts only, not beliefs,” said Carl Levin, D-Mich.
Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., said inclusion of the hate crimes language will force him to vote against a defense authorization bill for the first time in 15 years.
“The bill includes hate crimes legislation, which I firmly believe is unnecessary, irresponsible, and certainly not germane to this bill. There is little evidence that indicates that violent crimes, motivated by hate, go unpunished in the United States,” Chambliss said. “This hate crimes legislation would establish a protected class of crime victims who would receive special protection under the law. We already have laws to prosecute individuals who commit violent crimes. Those people guilty of violent crimes against anyone should and will be prosecuted under existing law and should be punished to the hilt when found guilty,” Chambliss said.
By a vote of 68-29, the Senate cleared the conference report. All but one Democrat present voted for the measure. Of Republicans present, 10 voted for the measure and 28 voted against it. The end result is that the conference report on a measure to authorize funding for the Defense Department in fiscal 2010 and expand federal hate crimes laws to include sexual identity was adopted, and sent to President Obama.