Republicans are notoriously known for supporting increases in military budgets and spending. However, in October 2009, 29 Republican Senators voted against the National Defense Authorization Act.
What Is the National Defense Authorization Act?
The bill approves spending in 2010 for the Defense Department's military activities: military construction, defense activities of the Department of Energy, provide military personnel counts for the year, and other purposes.
However, in the Senate, many Republicans voted against the bill because it expands hate crimes to cover homosexuals. As Senator Lamar Alexander stated, "It's a shame that this piece of legislation was added to a bill that's supposed to be about supporting our troops."1
The "Hate Crime" Provision
The hate crimes law is named after two violent incidents in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming, was kidnapped and beaten to death, and James Byrd Jr., a black man who was dragged to death after being chained to a pickup truck in Texas.
The condition makes assaulting someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity it a federal crime. Currently, federal hate crime is based on attacks motivated by bias based on religion, race, national origin or color. The 68-29 vote is a victory for civil rights groups campaigning to expand the federal hate crimes law to include gay people.
Does This Happen Often?
This isn't the first time unrelated provisions were written to a popular bill to assure passage. In fact, there are many times when so-called omnibus bills are passed with amendments so several items can be made laws at one time.
One main debate when passing bills has been a line-item veto. This would make it possible for members of the executive branch - the president or a state governor - to approve or veto (deny) a particular part of a bill they don't like. The Supreme Court is reluctant to make this official by adding a constitutional amendment.
The unpopular Reducing Americans' Vulnerability to Ecstasy Act (RAVE Act) was attached to the unrelated child abduction-related Amber Alert Bill, without a public hearing, debate or a vote.
In some states, this practice is illegal, requiring each bill enacted by the state legislature to only contain a single subject.
1James Oliphant, Anti-Gay Violence Bill Heads to White House After Senate Approval, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 23, 2009 available at http://articles.latimes.com/2009/oct/23/nation/na-hate-crimes22, accessed Dec. 2, 2009.
Questions for Your Attorney:
- Is there a way for me to tell my senator or representative about particular items in bills to vote on?
- Once a bill is passed and the president signs it, how long does it take to take effect?