Late last evening, a vote was held on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill in the United States Senate. There has been some confusion about the meaning of the vote and what the next steps are, so I thought I’d write and clear it up as best as possible. Please understand that there are still some unknowns working out now.
Background: What Happened Before Last Night
In the House of Representatives, two votes have been held that matter for this discussion. First, on April 29, by a vote of 249-175, the House passed H.R. 1913 (The Local Law Enforcement hate Crimes Prevention Act, which is the House version of the Matthew Shepard Act and essentially identical). Second, the House has also passed it’s own version of the Department of Defense Authorization Act, which I’ll now call the DoD bill.
Also of importance to understand is that the White House has announced that the President would veto the DoD bill if, when it passes, it still contains funding for F-22 fighter aircraft because they consider the planes to be militarily and budgetarily undesirable. Some Senators are trying to remove the F-22 funding from the bill and some Senators are trying to keep the F-22 funding. I’ll explain in a moment how that impacts the hate crimes bill.
Finally, because of how Senate rules work, it was mostly advantageous to the Hate Crimes bill that it be attached to another bill that would be getting a vote in the Senate rather than running as a bill on its own. In previous years the DoD Authorization was selected as the vehicle onto which hate crimes would be attached because it was thought to be a must-sign bill for President Bush who would not want to disrupt the DoD just to express support for radical right people who hate the hate crimes bill. This year, Senate leadership decided that the DoD bill would be best the vehicle primarily because, in their estimation, it was basically the last train leaving the station if hate crimes were to pass this summer.
What Happened Last Night
Last night (Thursday) we had a vote on the Matthew Shepard Act. The vote was 63-28 and it is now attached to the DoD bill which will get a vote approximately next Wednesday or Thursday after additional amendments are considered early next week. Every Democrat voted yes (except Kennedy and Byrd who were absent) and 5 Republicans voted yes (Collins (R-ME), Lugar (R-IN), Murkowski (R-AK), Snowe (R-ME), and Voinovich (R-OH) ). I’ll append the rollcall list at the end of this post.
Here is what happened. A leadership agreement was reached between the Dems. and Reps. that the Matthew Shepard Act Amendment would be considered. The agreement was that last night there would be votes on two Republican amendments and one Democratic amendment, followed by a cloture vote (this stops or closes debate) on the Matthew Shepard Act Amendment and a vote to adopt the amendment. All of these things happened. Two unimportant amendments were adopted simply restated the First Amendment protections that are already clearly in both the bill and the Constitution. Additionally Senator Hatch proposed, but lost, an amendment that would have gutted the hate crimes act by studying it to death.
The bottom line about last night though is that the Matthew Shepard Act got the vote we had all been working for in the Senate and the vote totals were inspiring. Ultimately, all of the people who had called their Senators and all the people who visited their Senators won the support of two-thirds of the United State Senate. That’s spectacular.
What Happens Next?
It does not appear likely that another vote directly on the overall Matthew Shepard Act will be necessary in the Senate or the House. Yet there will be several more votes of significance on related matters that we will be monitoring. We are still optimistic that it will be signed into law this year, but that is probably still a few months away. Here is why.
Come Monday, Senators will offer four additional amendments on the topic of hate crimes. We know that one of these will attempt to add military service people as a protected class. Another is a really horrendous amendment that would add the death penalty to the Hate crimes provisions. NCTE strongly rejects the death penalty and is fervently opposed to the Sessions Amendment and will be encouraging our members to contact their Senators in opposition. NCTE would not support a hate crime law that included a death penalty provision. Regardless, Senator Sessions is trying to add the amendment as a posion pill meant to kill it; he will not vote for the Act with or without the death penalty.
The other debate to watch this week will be around the F-22 aircraft. Just Wednesday, the White House reiterated its seemingly firm intention of vetoing the entire DoD bill if the F-22 funding is retained. Here is a link to a Wall Street Journal blog post about the issue: http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2009/06/26/air-force-secretary-repeats-f-22-veto-threat/. The debate, by the way, is not about whether we need F-22s–it is about whether we need 187 F-22 or closer to 200. The Air Force and the White House think we need 187 of them while members of Congress in whose districts the aircraft and their parts are built think we need to build more.
I am not sufficiently versed in military policy to gauge the likelihood of the F-22 funding remaining in the bill. There will be a robust discussion of this issue and probably a vote early next week and that obviously will impact the prospects of the hate crimes bill to become law.
It is anticipated that at some point later in the week (Wednesday or Thursday probably), there will be a vote on the overall DoD bill. We expect that it will pass with or without the F-22 funding. Again, there is not likely to be another vote directly on the hate crimes bill, but votes on the various amendments are very important and will be followed closely. And NCTE is strongly against the Senator Sessions Death Penalty Amendment.
Assuming that the DoD bill is voted on and passes, it will go to a House-Senate conference committee over the August recess (which they don’t call a recess but rather something like a Summer In-District Work period). A conference happens when a bill passes both the House and the Senate but what is passed is not identical. The conference reconciles the differences and issues a conference report that both chambers then approve or disapprove. In this case, we would expect to see a conference report in September so that Congress can vote on the bill and send it to the White House for signing or vetoing before September 30 when the federal fiscal year ends.
At this point, we assume that if the funding for the aircraft is still in the bill, the President will veto it and the Senate will need to strip the F-22 funding or override the President’s veto or do something else thus passing both a DoD Authorization bill and a hate crimes bill. The White House and House and Senate Leadership have assured our coalition over and over that, regardless of a possible veto of this bill, the Matthew Shepard Act will be included in the bill that is eventually signed into law sometime this year.
What can people do?
The first important step people can take is to contact their two Senators before the Monday afternoon vote on the death penalty amendment from Senator Sessions and ask them to defeat it. If they voted for the Matthew Shepard Act Amendment last night, thank them for their support and leadership. NCTE will update people as additional actions are necessary.
Thanks to everyone who called, wrote to or visited their Senators.
For another take on last night’s win read this Associated Press piece
The full roll call vote of how Senators voted begins now.
Akaka (D-HI), Yea Alexander (R-TN), Not Voting Barrasso (R-WY), Nay Baucus (D-MT), Yea Bayh (D-IN), Yea Begich (D-AK), Yea Bennet (D-CO), Yea Bennett (R-UT), Nay Bingaman (D-NM), Yea Bond (R-MO), Not Voting Boxer (D-CA), Yea Brown (D-OH), Yea Brownback (R-KS), Nay Bunning (R-KY), Not Voting Burr (R-NC), Nay Burris (D-IL), Yea Byrd (D-WV), Not Voting Cantwell (D-WA), Yea Cardin (D-MD), Yea Carper (D-DE), YeaCasey (D-PA), YeaChambliss (R-GA), NayCoburn (R-OK), NayCochran (R-MS), NayCollins (R-ME), YeaConrad (D-ND), YeaCorker (R-TN), Not VotingCornyn (R-TX), NayCrapo (R-ID), NayDeMint (R-SC), NayDodd (D-CT), YeaDorgan (D-ND), YeaDurbin (D-IL), YeaEnsign (R-NV), NayEnzi (R-WY), NayFeingold (D-WI), YeaFeinstein (D-CA), YeaFranken (D-MN), YeaGillibrand (D-NY), YeaGraham (R-SC), Not VotingGrassley (R-IA), NayGregg (R-NH), Not VotingHagan (D-NC), YeaHarkin (D-IA), YeaHatch (R-UT), NayHutchison (R-TX), NayInhofe (R-OK), NayInouye (D-HI), YeaIsakson (R-GA), NayJohanns (R-NE), NayJohnson (D-SD), YeaKaufman (D-DE), YeaKennedy (D-MA), Not VotingKerry (D-MA), YeaKlobuchar (D-MN), YeaKohl (D-WI), YeaKyl (R-AZ), NayLandrieu (D-LA), YeaLautenberg (D-NJ), YeaLeahy (D-VT), YeaLevin (D-MI), YeaLieberman (ID-CT), YeaLincoln (D-AR), YeaLugar (R-IN), YeaMartinez (R-FL), Not VotingMcCain (R-AZ), NayMcCaskill (D-MO), YeaMcConnell (R-KY), NayMenendez (D-NJ), YeaMerkley (D-OR), YeaMikulski (D-MD), YeaMurkowski (R-AK), YeaMurray (D-WA), YeaNelson (D-FL), YeaNelson (D-NE), YeaPryor (D-AR), YeaReed (D-RI), YeaReid (D-NV), YeaRisch (R-ID), NayRoberts (R-KS), NayRockefeller (D-WV), YeaSanders (I-VT), YeaSchumer (D-NY), YeaSessions (R-AL), NayShaheen (D-NH), YeaShelby (R-AL), NaySnowe (R-ME), YeaSpecter (D-PA), YeaStabenow (D-MI), YeaTester (D-MT), YeaThune (R-SD), NayUdall (D-CO), YeaUdall (D-NM), YeaVitter (R-LA), NayVoinovich (R-OH), YeaWarner (D-VA), YeaWebb (D-VA), YeaWhitehouse (D-RI), YeaWicker (R-MS), NayWyden (D-OR), Yea