Lawmaker says hate crimes bill contains error
OKLAHOMA CITY — A bill intended to remove hate crime protections from gays and lesbians actually takes away rights from everyone else because of a “legislative error,” according to one lawmaker.
Oklahoma State Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice, D-Oklahoma City, said when the Senate passed Senate Bill 1965 on March 10, it eliminated hate crime protections for race and religion.
The bill states local law enforcement agencies should not enforce any sections of federal law under hate crimes statutes listed under Title 18 U.S. Code Section 245 unless they are in correlation with Oklahoma’s hate crimes laws.
But the protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes, which passed Congress last year, are not listed under Section 245, but Section 249
“The bill in its current form doesn’t take away rights from gays and lesbians,” Rice said. “It takes away rights for religion and race.”
Rice said the error occurred during the creation of the bill.
“This is most likely a legislative error or at least a typo,” Rice said.
When The Daily asked bill author Sen. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City, for a comment on the typo, his legislative assistant declined the interview and referred The Daily to Monday’s edition of The Tulsa World for an official statement on the error.
“Before it gets to the House floor, it will be much amended,” Russell said about the bill in The Tulsa World’s Monday issue.
Gay rights groups were initially outraged by the bill’s passage.
“Not only does the state hate crimes law exclude sexual orientation and gender identity, but SB 1965 also prevents law enforcement officials from asking for federal assistance in enforcing the LGBT-inclusive federal hate crimes law,” Laura Belmonte, vice president of The Equality Network, said in a press release.
Rice said other groups should be more outraged if not just as upset.
“Gay and lesbian citizens should be upset because someone tried to take their rights away, but minority groups should be concerned that their rights have already been voted to be taken away by the Senate,” Rice said. “People who consider themselves Jewish, black, even Christians should be outraged.”
Rice said he is hopeful the bill will either be vetoed by Gov. Brad Henry or be killed in the House.
“There are many things this bill has to go through before it is final and hopefully it will be killed in the process,” Rice said.
Paul Sund, spokesman for Henry, said the governor is watching the bill and its changes but has not made a decision on whether he will veto or sign the bill.
“Because bills can change dramatically as they move through the legislative process, it is the policy of the governor’s office not to pass judgment on any proposal until we see the final language in the final version of the legislation,” Sund said by e-mail.
When Russell was asked about the bill in November, he said he believed new additions to hate crime protections for sexual orientation and gender identity overstepped the boundaries of the federal government.
“The federal government should not be creating a special class of people, and that is just what they did when they passed and signed this bill,” Russell said in November. “All crimes against another person have some level of hate in them, and people can be assured that our laws that protect people against crimes such as murder are sufficient to protect everyone.”
Rice said the way the bill passed the Senate could have led to some confusion among lawmakers as to what they were voting on.
“This bill went through the Senate so fast, it wouldn’t surprise me if members either didn’t read the bill or thought they were voting on the original education bill,” Rice said.
Russell’s bill originally died in the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this year, according to the Oklahoma State Senate’s Web site.
However, Russell was able to replace the language of an education bill with the language of his then dead bill Feb. 25, the Web site stated.
The Senate Common Education Committee, of which Russell is a member, passed the new bill and moved it to the Senate floor where it was approved by a vote if 39-6.
The bill is currently up for consideration in the House Judiciary Committee.
The bill listed Rep. Wes Hilliard, D-Sulphur, as the House co-sponsor, but according to Hilliard’s legislative assistant, Hilliard dropped his name from the bill once it changed from an education bill to a hate crimes bill. His assistant also said she had not heard of the bill having a new co-sponsor as of last Friday.