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Legislation: A Senator's View

Legislation: A Senator's View


A year ago, hate-crimes legislation would not have even made its way to President Bush's desk, says U.S. senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

The ayes are 60. The nays are 39. Three fifths of the senators duly chosen and sworn having voted in the affirmative, the motion is agreed to.

Yes, elections do matter.

On September 27, nine Republican senators joined all 51 Democrats to pass an amendment enabling federal prosecution of hate crimes.

I had the honor of serving as president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate -- presiding over the Senate -- when we invoked a procedure called cloture to cut off a Republican filibuster on Sen. Ted Kennedy's hate-crimes amendment. A few minutes before the vote, the Massachusetts Democrat said, "If America is to live up to its founding ideals of liberty and justice for all, combating hate crimes must be a national priority."

The amendment was attached to a defense bill. Senator Kennedy said, "The defense authorization bill is about dealing with the challenges of terrorism overseas. This is about terrorism in our neighborhood." Those of us in the Senate and House who have fought for hate-crimes legislation for years understand that this is our best chance yet of enacting it into law.

Before last November, hate-crimes legislation was repeatedly sidelined in Congress, never having a chance to get to the president's desk. Today, thanks to the efforts of human rights activists in every state in our nation, we are closer than ever to prosecuting crimes motivated by prejudice and hatred and divisiveness.

We should not, as a nation, tread softly when individuals use violence to perpetuate hatred.

The Senate action last week brought us one major step closer to that reality.

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