H. Res. 364, providing for the consideration of legislation to expand federal hate-crimes law to include the use or threat of force against individuals because of their gender, sexual orientation or disability (H.R. 1592)/Motion to order previous question (ending debate and prohibiting amendment)
house Roll Call 296 May 03, 2007
This motion was offered to force a vote on the rules for debate for a bill to expand the reach of federal hate-crimes legislation to include crimes committed against an individual because of his or her gender, sexual orientation or disability.
The resolution outlined the rules for debate for the legislation, including how much floor time would be granted to each side and which amendments would be considered in order. The resolution is thus commonly known as the rules package. This vote was a motion ordering the previous question, which is a parliamentary maneuver that effectively ends debate, prohibits amendment and moves the House to a vote for an up-or-down of the resolution under consideration.
To oppose ordering the previous question was a vote against the Democratic majority agenda and to allow the opposition to offer an alternative plan. Motions to order the previous question are about who controls the debate and represent one of the only tools available to those who oppose the majority's agenda.
Current federal hate-crimes law covers the use or threat of force against a person based on race, color, religion or national origin that interferes with the victim's ability to engage in six specific "federally protected" activities. This bill would remove from the definition interference with the victim's ability to engage in federally protected activities, effectively allowing federal law enforcement broader authority to prosecute hate crimes. The legislation would also authorize $5 million annually for grants for local law enforcement officials to help them investigate and prosecute hate crimes and stiffen the penalties for those convicted of such crimes.
Republicans opposed the rules package because of their opposition to the underlying bill as well as in protest of the so-called "closed rule" proposed by the Democratic-controlled Rules Committee. Under a closed rule, no amendments are allowed on the House floor.
Republicans philosophically opposed the legislation because they believe a crime is a crime and that the bill would essentially turn the federal government into the "thought police." They said the legislation would unfairly create a special category of crimes, unjustly making one crime more worthy of punishment than another simply by the somewhat murky notion of the personal beliefs of the perpetrator. Republicans don't think that crimes against homosexuals or other "special classes" of people should be treated differently than a crime committed against anyone else.
Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said, "if someone commits a crime, they should be punished, period." He added, "It is a bad bill. This rule is a bad bill, not allowing for improvement, so I ask Members to oppose the rule and the previous question."
Supporters of the legislation maintained that 15,000 hate crimes based on sexual orientation were reported between 1991 and 2005, and that it was high time for the federal government to include those hate crimes in federal law side-by-side with crimes committed against people because of their race or national origin.
Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) said, "violent acts fueled by bigotry and hatred of a particular group simply because of who they are has no place in America."
If the motion for the previous question is defeated, the House in effect turns control of the floor over to the lawmaker who led the opposition to the question at hand, usually a member of the minority party. As such, motions to order the previous question are usually party-line votes, and the majority party almost always prevails.
Such was the case for this vote, and all Republicans present voted against the measure and all but five Democrats present voted for it, and the motion passed 217-196. Thus, on an almost party-line vote, the House ended debate and brought to a vote the rules for consideration for legislation that would expand the definition of hate crimes to include crimes perpetrated based on gender, sexual orientation or disability.
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