Hate-crimes exclusion bill killed in House committee
BY BARBARA HOBEROCK World Capitol Bureau
Monday, April 05, 2010
OKLAHOMA CITY — A controversial hate-crimes bill did not get a hearing Monday in a House committee.
Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City, became the House author of Senate Bill 1965, by Sen. Steven Russell, R-Oklahoma City. Shelton said he took control of the bill to kill it and asked that the bill not get heard in the House Judiciary Committee.
Russell said he had substantially rewritten the bill from its original version.
Under the new language, if local law enforcement objected to turning information over to the federal government in a hate-crimes investigation, federal authorities would have to file a petition in court showing good cause why they needed the information, Russell said.
If local law enforcement didn’t object to turning over the information, court approval would not be needed, Russell said.
Russell said the law is needed to protect free speech after the passage of a federal law that added sexual orientation or gender identity to the categories protected under the federal hate-crimes law. President Barack Obama signed the law in October.
Oklahoma’s existing hate-crimes law does not include sexual orientation or gender identity.
Shelton said SB 1965 would have prohibited Oklahoma law enforcement agencies from cooperating with any federal agency in the investigation of a federal hate crime.
But Russell said his bill had been misinterpreted. He said he was concerned that pastors who preached against homosexuality could be prosecuted if someone, as a result, took action against a gay person.
“In my view, this is not the end of it,” Russell said. “We need protections in state law.”
Speech needs to be protected unless it is directly related to a crime, he said.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution includes free speech among its five protected freedoms.
Even under the new language in the bill, federal law enforcement would have to go through an extra step to obtain the information, said Tamya Cox, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma.
Laura Belmonte, vice president and co-founder of The Equality Network, a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization, said the group will be monitoring the legislative session to ensure that Russell does not insert the bill’s language into another measure.
“This is a bill that really denies Oklahomans equal protection under federal law,” Belmonte said. “It puts law enforcement in the position of breaking federal law, directing them to obstruct access to evidence.
“It leaves the lesbian, gay and transgender community particularly vulnerable. If they are a victim of hate crimes in Oklahoma, the state hate-crimes law doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Rep. Mike Shelton, D-Oklahoma City
Sen. Steven Russell, R-Oklahoma City