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Public Statements


Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KENNEDY. Madam President, over the course of this morning, this afternoon, and yesterday, we have had some excellent comments in support of our hate crimes amendment which we will be voting on in the morning. Also, we will be voting on the SCHIP program as well. Over the course of the afternoon, a number of people have spoken on these issues. I am enormously grateful to many of my colleagues who have taken a great interest in these issues and wanted to be able to speak on them. Many of them have. Others will continue through the afternoon, probably into the evening, to express their support for this legislation.

I wish to take a couple of moments on the issue of hate crimes. We have heard during this discussion that hate crimes are alive and well in the United States, tragically. Over the last few days, we have spoken about many people who have been impacted by hate crimes and described in some detail the horrific circumstances so many of these individuals, fellow citizens, have undergone because of their religious, ethnic, racial, and sexual orientation.

I was moved--and I am sure many were--by the Southern Poverty Law Center and their very important study on estimates of hate crimes. The Southern Poverty Law Center was focused on crimes of race in the South for many years and developed enormous amounts of information about those horrific crimes and was very responsible in bringing people to justice in a number of circumstances. Their focus on these issues of hatred got them to expand their research.

As I mentioned in an earlier presentation, they recorded their best judgment that hate crimes reach 50,000 people per year every year, which is an extraordinary amount.

I wish to respond to a point or two that have been raised in questioning our approach on this issue.

In the hate crimes legislation we have introduced, our bill fully respects the primary role of State and local law enforcement in responding to violent crimes. 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 prosecution 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.

We have responded to these issues and gone into them in very careful detail. There are those who say this legislation is going to make every crime of violence a hate crime. We have heard that statement in opposition. We have heard it for a number of years. We have addressed it, and we have spelled out in the legislation exactly what is the jurisdiction.

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 to investigate and prosecute hate crimes in any of the categories. It offers training grants for local law enforcement. It amends the Federal Hate Crimes Statistics Act to add gender to the existing categories of race, religion, ethnic background, sexual orientation, and disability. So 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. This legislation can send a strong message to the perpetrators of such crimes and to all others who think we are going to sit back and watch our fellow citizens being attacked so brutally.

What we are basically saying on the issue of hate crimes is we are going to fight it with both hands. Now the Federal Government has one arm tied behind its back, unable to deal with the problems of hate crimes. Now we are saying: Yes, we are going to work with the locals; yes, we are going to work with the State; but, yes, we are going to insist that all of the resources at the Federal level can be utilized when called upon in these horrific crimes of hate.

These are some of the points that have been raised. I wanted to respond to them this afternoon.


Mr. President, I see others of my colleagues here. I had planned to speak briefly for a few moments on another issue we are going to vote on tomorrow, the SCHIP program. If any of our colleagues wanted to make a comment on this, I will be glad to welcome it.

Moving to this issue about the vote we will have tomorrow on the Children's Health Insurance Program that was developed to provide health insurance to the children of working families--the very poor are covered by Medicaid, and CHIP is for the working families. It has been a great success. The greatest failure has been we have not provided the kind of assurance we should to all children who are in need of this program.

This is the statement of the President:

America's children must also have a healthy start in life. In a new term, we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for the Government's health insurance programs. We will not allow a lack of attention, or information, to stand between these children and the health care they need.

I hope the Senate will heed that comment and that commitment because that effectively is what we will be voting on tomorrow.

It is difficult for many of us to understand, when the President made that comment and that commitment to the American people, that he would urge us to reject the excellent proposal that has been basically accepted by the House and the Senate.

Quickly, this chart is the Center for Medicare Services, known as CMS, report on CHIP, September 19, 2007. Over the past 10 years, CHIP has improved overall access to care, reduced the level of unmet needs, and improved access to dental care, expanded access to preventive care, and reduced emergency department use. This is the Center for Medical Services. This is a part of the current administration.

This is the current administration's assessment. We have the President's statement and now their assessment about the success of the program.

We can understand why, when we look at this chart--this is National Health Interview Survey--CHIP has reduced the uninsured rate for children from when we started the program in 1997 to now, with the arrows going down, from 22 percent down to 13 percent. This side of the aisle would like to have it go all the way down. It shows remarkable progress in an area of important national need.

This chart demonstrates the relationship between health and education. Enrollment in CHIP has helped children learn. We passed an important education program earlier this year. We are addressing now the K-through-12 challenge we are facing. Look at the difference in children's performance ratings before and after 1 year's enrollment in CHIP. We have before, and we are talking about paying attention in class, and after we find a dramatic increase in the interest of children, and before and after ``keeping up with school activities.''

It is very understandable because the children are getting the health care they need, they are getting eyeglasses, they are getting the hearing assistance they need, they are getting the medical attention they need, and the results has been a dramatic increase in the performance of schools.

We have great issues and questions about what works and what doesn't work in education. What we know is, if you have a healthy child, you have a child who is going to do better in education.

We are concerned in the Senate about disparities that exist in our society, the dramatic difference between the haves and the have-nots. We are very much concerned about that disparity, in the fields of education as well as health care, in our committee.

If we look at the disparities, the percentage of children with unmet health needs before CHIP and after CHIP--this is the Kaiser Family Foundation--we see the difference between Blacks, represented by 38 percent, and Hispanics. If we look at it during CHIP, we see overall progress, and we see the disparities reduced. This means we are looking at all children. We are concerned about all children, and the success, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, has been dramatic.

One of the areas--and this is a typical one--is asthma. It is one that has affected my family, and it is one in which there has been a dramatic increase over the last several years. Unquestionably, it is because of the administration's changes in environmental standards which put more poisons into the air, and I believe it is also because of an increase of poverty in our country. We have more children who are poor, more families who are poor than ever before.

Rather than looking at the escalation of asthma, if we look at unmet health needs of children, we see the dramatic difference in emergency visits of children before CHIP and after CHIP, and this has had a dramatic impact on the wellness of children.

As has been pointed out by many of my colleagues--and I do not intend to take a great deal more time--this is an issue of priorities. We know the program works. We know it is built on a delivery system which has been basically supported by the President. The Medicare prescription drug program--I didn't agree with that delivery system, but the President strongly supported it. It is the law. The same delivery system is used in the CHIP program.

It is based on the private use of private insurance, and it is paid for by, as we all know, an increase in the tobacco tax, which is going to mean additional benefits in health for children. Here is the cost: $35 billion over 5 years, $120 billion for the cost of Iraq. Stated differently, it is $333 million a day; CHIP is $19 million.

Finally, this chart here really says it all. A quote from the mother of Alexiana Lewis:

If I miss a single appointment, I know she could lose her eyesight. If I can't buy her medication, I know she could lose her eyesight. If I didn't have MASSHealth, my daughter would be blind.

This is one parent, and it is being replicated by parents all over the country, by 6 million children and their parents. I hope we are going to have a solid vote in support of that program on the morrow.

I yield the floor.


Mr. KENNEDY. Will the Senator yield for an observation?

Mr. DURBIN. I am happy to yield.

Mr. KENNEDY. The $35 billion will not be paid for by the taxpayers.

Mr. DURBIN. That is right.

Mr. KENNEDY. Which is really extraordinary. We have done the education program, where we took some $20 billion from the lenders. This $35 billion is going to be paid for with the increase in the cigarette tax, which in and of itself will have an extraordinarily positive impact in the quality of health for children in this country and to the whole problem and challenge of childhood addiction to nicotine. So I think it is important.

We hear a great deal about: Well, the figures the Senator mentioned are dramatic in terms of the choice which is before the Members tomorrow in terms of priorities. But you even add to that the fact that the taxpayer is going to be spared that kind of additional burden, and it is difficult for many of us to understand the strong opposition of the administration.

I thank the Senator.


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