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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

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STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS -- (Senate - May 26, 2005)

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By Mr. KENNEDY (for himself, Mr. Specter, Mr. Smith, Mr. Leahy, Ms. Collins, Mr. Lieberman, Ms. Snowe, Mr. Wyden, Mr. Jeffords, Mr. Schumer, Mr. Chafee, Mr. Akaka, Mr. Ensign, Mr. Bayh, Mr. Biden, Mr. Bingaman, Mrs. Boxer, Ms. Cantwell, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Coleman, Mr. Corzine, Mr. Dayton, Mr. Dodd, Mr. Durbin, Mrs. Feinstein, Mr. Harkin, Mr. Inouye, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Kerry, Ms. Landrieu, Mr. Levin, Mrs. Lincoln, Ms. Mikulski, Mrs. Murray, Mr. Nelson of Nebraska, Mr. Nelson of Florida, Mr. Obama, Mr. Reed, Mr. Salazar, Mr. Sarbanes, Ms. Stabenow, Mr. Lautenberg, Mr. Pryor, and Mr. Rockefeller):

S. 1145. A bill to provide Federal assistance to States and local jurisdictions to prosecute hate crimes; to the Committee on the Judiciary.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, hate crimes are a violation of everything our country stands for. They send the poisonous message that some Americans deserve to be victimized solely because of who they are. They're basically acts of domestic terrorism. Hate crimes have an impact far greater than the impact on their individual victim. They're crimes against entire communities, against the whole Nation, and against the fundamental ideals on which America was founded.

The vast majority of Congress agrees. Last year, Senator Smith and I offered the same measure. The Senate passed it as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill by a nearly 2-1 bi-partisan vote of 65-33. By a vote of 213-186, the House instructed its conferees to support it in the conference report on the bill. Unfortunately, House leaders insisted that the provision be dropped in conference. This week, Senator Smith and I are introducing the identical bill.

The provision is supported by a broad coalition of law enforcement and civil rights groups, including the National Sheriff's Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Anti-Defamation League, and the National Center for Victims of Crime, and I'm optimistic the bill would have the same broad support it did before. Those who commit hate crimes prey on the vulnerable and terrorize them, because they can't protect themselves. If our Nation stands for anything, it's to protect the vulnerable.

We know that hate crimes are a serious problem that continues to plague us. According to FBI statistics, over 9,000 people were victims of hate crimes reported in the United States in 2003. That's almost 25 people victimized a day, every day, based on their race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic background, or disability. Sadly, these F.B.I. statistics show only part of the problem, because many hate crimes go unreported. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that monitors hate groups and extremist activity, estimates that the actual number of hate crimes committed in the United States each year is closer to 50,000.

Congress can't ignore the problem. Our bill will strengthen the ability of Federal, State, and local governments to investigate and prosecute these vicious and senseless crimes. Current Federal law, obviously isn't adequate to protect our citizens.

It contains excessive restrictions requiring proof that victims were attacked because they were engaged in certain ``federally protected activities.'' It doesn't include violence committed because of person's sexual orientation, gender, or disability. It covers only hate crimes based on race, religion, or ethnic background.

The federally protected activity requirement is outdated, unwise, and unnecessary. In June 2003, three men saw 6 Latino teenagers in a family restaurant on Long Island. The teenagers, 3 boys and 3 girls, between 13-15 years old, knew each other from church and baseball teams. They were there together to celebrate the birthday of one of the girls, whose parents made her take her 13 year old sister along as ``chaperone.'' A parent dropped them all off in his mini-van and promised to pick them up after dinner and a movie. But, moments after leaving, he received a panicked phone call from one of the children, telling him they'd been attacked.

As the group entered the restaurant, three men were leaving the bar, after drinking there for hours. For no apparent reason, they assaulted the teenagers, pummeling one boy and severing a tendon in his hand with a sharp weapon. During the attack, the men screamed racial slurs and one identified himself as a skinhead. The children, who had never experienced anything like this, have been traumatized ever since.

Two of the defendants were tried under current Federal law for committing a hate crime and were acquitted. The Jurors said they acquitted them because the government had not proved the attack took place because the victims were engaged in a federally protected activity--using the restaurant.

The bill we introduce today eliminates the federally protected activity requirement. Under this bill, these defendants who walked out of the front door of the courthouse free that day would almost certainly have left in handcuffs through a different door.

The bill also recognizes that hate crimes are committed against people because of their sexual orientation, their gender, and their disability. Current Federal law didn't protect gay campers in Honolulu from attempted murder when their tents were doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire because they were gay.

It didn't protect Brandon Teena, in Humboldt, NE who was raped and beaten by two male friends when they discovered that he was living as a male but was anatomically female. The local sheriff refused to arrest the offenders, and they later shot and stabbed Brandon to death.

Current law did not protect a 23-year-old mentally disabled man in Port Monmouth, New Jersey who was kidnapped by 9 men and women and tortured for three hours before being dumped in the woods because he was disabled.

Our bill will close all these flagrant loopholes. In addition to removing the federally protected activity requirement and expanding the class of protected people:

The bill protects State interests with a strict certification procedure that requires the Federal Government to consult with local officials before bringing a Federal case.

It offers Federal assistance to help State and local law enforcement investigate and prosecute hate crimes in any of the categories.

It offers training grants for local law enforcement.

It amends the Federal Hate Crime Statistics Act to add gender to the existing categories of race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and disability.

A strong Federal role in prosecuting hate crimes is essential for practical and symbolic reasons. In practical terms, the bill will have a real world impact on actual criminal investigations and prosecutions by State and Federal officials.

The presence or absence of the ``federally protected activity'' requirement frequently determines whether state and local resources must be used to prosecute these crimes or whether the Federal Government can bring its full weight to bear on the case.

Hate crime investigations tend to be expensive, requiring considerable law enforcement legwork and extensive use of investigative grand juries. State officials regularly seek federal assistance in bringing hate crime offenders to justice under current law. This bill expands the opportunity for the Justice Department to provide that support.

Our bill fully respects the primary role of State and local law enforcement in responding to violent crime. The vast majority of hate crimes will continue to be prosecuted at the state and local level. The bill authorizes the Justice Department to assist state and local authorities in hate crimes cases, it authorizes Federal prosecutions only when a State does not have jurisdiction, or when it asks the Federal Government to take jurisdiction, or when it fails to act against hate-motivated violence.

In other words, the bill establishes an appropriate back-up for State and local law enforcement to deal with hate crimes in cases where states request assistance, or cases that would not otherwise be effectively investigated and prosecuted.

The symbolic value of the bill is equally important. Hate crimes target whole communities, not just individuals. They are intended to send messages of fear that extend beyond the moment and beyond the individual victim of the attack. Attacking people because they are gay, or African-American, or Jewish, or any other criteria in the bill is bigotry at its worst. Hate crimes are designed to de-humanize and diminish, and we must say loud and clear to those inclined to commit them that they'll go to prison if they do.

The vast majority of us in Congress recognized the importance of making that statement last year. This year, we can make the statement even louder, by turning this bill into law.

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By Mr. ISAKSON (for himself and Mr. KENNEDY):

S. 1149. A bill to amend the Federal Employees' Compensation Act to cover services provided to injured Federal workers by physician assistants and nurse practitioners, and for other purposes; to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, today, with my distinguished colleague Senator ISAKSON, I am pleased to introduce the Improving Access to Workers' Compensation for Injured Federal Workers Act.

Our federal employees serve the American public. Day in and day out, they keep our homeland secure, protect our environment, and oversee and care for those in need. They ensure the safety of our food and our medicines, deliver our daily mail, and undertake countless other duties that, while they sometimes go unnoticed, should never be taken for granted.

More than two-and-a-half million of these workers are covered by the Federal Employees' Compensation Act (FECA). In addition to compensating workers for lost wages, FECA provides medical treatment to Federal workers injured on the job, to help them return to health and to work quickly.

FECA is an effective and fair compensation system. This bill will make it even better by expanding it to cover services provided by nurse practitioners and physician assistants. This will protect many workers who are now without access to needed care when a job-related injury strikes.

Nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants play growing role in medical care, with more than 100,000 nurse practitioners and 46,000 physicians' assistants across the country. They provide crucial services--diagnosing and treating illnesses, ordering and interpreting diagnostic and laboratory tests and educating and counseling patients and families. In many States they can also prescribe medications.

Nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants provide these top quality services in a cost-effective way. The Department of Health and Human Services reports that an office visit to see a nurse practitioner costs 10 percent to 40 percent less than comparable services from a physician, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics calls physicians' assistants ``cost-effective and productive members of the healthcare team.''

While their impact is felt throughout our nation, these care providers play a particularly important role in rural and low-income urban areas, which are often underserved by doctors. In fact, in some rural areas, an injured Federal worker may be required to travel more than one-hundred miles to see a physician and receive care that is covered under FECA. This bill would expand Federal workers' service options to include physicians' assistants or nurse practitioners who are more likely to be located nearby.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill and recognizing the invaluable work done by our Federal employees and the high-quality cost-effective care provided by nurse practitioners and physicians' assistants.

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By Mr. KENNEDY (for himself, Mr. AKAKA, and Mr. LAUTENBERG):

S. 1158. A bill to impose a 6-month moratorium on terminations of certain plans instituted under section 4042 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 in cases in which reorganization of contributing sponsors is sought in bankruptcy or insolvency proceedings; to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, the bill we are introducing today is urgently needed to protect the pension benefits of workers across America.

A decent retirement in today's world depends on Social Security, private pensions, and private savings. But today's working families find their retirement severely threatened. President Bush wants to privatize Social Security. Private savings are at an all-time low, and now private pensions are in great jeopardy, too.

This challenge has been brought home all too clearly by United Airlines' recent announcement that it intends to end its pension plans and turn them over to the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. The pensions of over 120,000 workers are at stake. Over $3 billion in their benefits are not guaranteed by the corporation, and the future pensions they have been promised will be lost as well.

These hard-working Americans include thousands of flight attendants like Patrice Anderson, who have made only a modest wage throughout their working lives and for whom ``the possible loss of hundreds of dollars a month in old age changes a dignified retirement into a subsistence-level retirement.''

The loss is particularly painful because so many of the employees have accepted lower pay or given back wages and other benefits in order to keep their pension plans. Marilyn King of California worked for United for 25 years. She says: ``I used to be proud of working for United. Now, I am embarrassed and angry. I am angry that we took 25 percent in pay cuts, that we gave other concessions; and then our COO and CEO get their bonuses and perks.''

We have heard from families and workers across the country. In Massachusetts, Kevin Creighan and his wife Cathy Hampton in Lynn have spent a lifetime with United, ``working hard, earning a living, and all along expecting a pension.'' They hoped to retire in 7 years, with a combined 70 years of loyal service between them. Now, if they want the retirement they were promised by the United Airlines pension plan, they will have to work for an additional 15 years.

George Raymond of Arizona retired at the age of 60 after 38 years. He writes that because of this pension termination, he will not be able to afford his medical bills. Richard Myer of California retired after 32 years as a United pilot, and now he has to go back to work and sell his home to support his children and his elderly father-in-law.

Americans who work hard and play by the rules should not be victimized by these broken promises. No wonder they feel betrayed. They share the view of Robert Lamica of Virginia, who says, ``I kept my promise to United for 36 years by working in rain, snow, heat, and whatever else nature would throw our way ..... My back and knees have been destroyed along with my ability to get another job ..... We need not be left on the curb just because United can.''

These loyal men and women cannot turn back the clock and make different decisions. But Congress can stop that clock and reach a fair solution.

This legislation we are introducing will prevent bankrupt companies from abandoning their pension plans for the next 6 months.

Our action will also ease the growing threat to all defined benefit pension plans. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation estimates that if it takes over the remaining airline defined benefit pension plans, 90 percent of the claims it must cover will come from airline companies or steel companies, even though such plans include only 5 percent of the employees covered by the corporation. The legislation will buy time for us to develop real solutions for the serious problems of these ailing industries.

I urge my colleagues to join me in support of this bill. We owe it to all these hard working Americans whose retirement has been put at risk.

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