Legislation to expand a federal hate crime law to extend protections to gay and disabled people was derailed Tuesday when the Senate Republicans blocked the measure from coming to a vote.
The legislation would add crimes based on sexual orientation and disability to a 1968 federal law that protects people on the basis of religion, race and ethnicity.
The measure passed the Senate in 1999 and again in 2000, but was blocked each time by Republicans in the House. On Tuesday, it was Senate Republicans, including several who voted in favor of the legislation in the past, who blocked the bill on a procedural vote.
Although opponents acknowledged more must be done to crack down on hate crimes, they reject the idea of allowing a greater federal role in an area they believe to be the realm of local law enforcement.
Some Republicans said Democrats had not allowed for adequate debate time on the measure, while others said the Senate should address issues relating to terrorism before considering hate crimes.
Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi said, "I am disappointed at the timing of this legislation to say the least. We should be focused on the war on terror."
But supporters of the bill, mostly Democrats, argue that hate crimes are a form of terrorism.
Senator Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts is key sponsor of the legislation. He said, "Republicans failed to give the Attorney General the necessary tools and resources to prevent and prosecute these domestic terrorist acts. Senate Republicans made clear that they will not take action to fight terrorism at home. The vote is a clear sign of a lack of commitment by Senate Republicans on this basic civil rights issue."
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, saying 20 hate crimes occur each day in the United States, vowed to bring up the issue again later this year.