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Conference Report On H.R. 2647, National Defense Authorization Act For Fiscal Year 2010

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, D.C.


Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, I feel strongly that all men and women must be treated equally, regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. That is why I am an original cosponsor of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

Hate crimes are real. They spread fear and intimidation among entire communities. This bill would strengthen local law enforcement's ability to prosecute hate crimes based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability to the victim. It's long past time for Congress to pass this important legislation to help prosecute those who would commit these heinous acts.

Some have opposed this bill by saying it would legislate ``thought crimes.'' It is patently false to say that we're criminalizing thought. We are criminalizing the brutality that results when these thoughts lead to the death and serious injury of an innocent victim. This is no more about criminalizing thought than the antilynching laws were about criminalizing knot tying.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act authorizes the Attorney General to provide technical, forensic and prosecutorial assistance in the criminal investigation or prosecution of any crime of violence that is motivated by prejudice based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability of the victim. It also authorizes the Department of Justice to award grants to state and local law enforcement to assist in hate crime prevention.

This bill is about hate crimes and giving law enforcement the tools they need to prosecute them. This bill has strong support from over 300 civil rights, religious, LGBT, law enforcement and civic organizations, and I'm particularly pleased to identify the support of the Garden State Equality, a group that has fought tirelessly to fight discrimination against all Americans, including discrimination based on gender identity.

The bill has in the past been approved by the House and the Senate only to fail to reach the president's desk. Yet, today we will finally pass the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law.


Mr. HOLT. Madam Speaker, I rise in support of this bill.

Every year, this bill provides us with an opportunity to make sure we are doing right by the men and women who serve our Nation in uniform. The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010 (H.R. 2647) would provide a 3.4-percent pay raise for our troops. It also would expand TRICARE health coverage for reserve component members and their families for 180 days prior to mobilization and prohibit fee increases on TRICARE inpatient care for one year. To help our wounded warriors with their recovery, the bill authorizes funding for travel and transportation for three designated persons, including non-family members, to visit hospitalized service members. It also authorizes funding to allow seriously injured service members to use a non-medical attendant for help with daily living or during travel for medical treatment.

H.R. 2647 also contains provisions designed to improve and rationalize our policy on detainees. I am especially pleased that the bill contains a provision I wrote that requires the videorecording of interrogations of detainees held at theater-level detention facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan. For the first time, the Defense Department will have a uniform standard for collecting videorecorded intelligence from detainees through this mandatory program. Law enforcement organizations across our country use this technique routinely in interrogations, and it is past time the Defense Department adopted a common standard for videorecording interrogations to maximize intelligence collection and protect both the interrogators and the detainees.

I'm pleased that this bill contains strong hate crimes prevention provisions that I have supported for years. The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which is included in this bill, would provide technical and financial support to local law enforcement and prosecutors so that they can more aggressively try violent crimes which are motivated by a victim's race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability and expands Federal jurisdiction to cover such crimes. Additionally, the bill would make it a Federal crime to attack U.S. servicemembers or their property on account of their service to country. The bill also includes stronger protections for freedom of speech and association, including religious speech and association, than the House passed version of this legislation. These changes will ensure that religious leaders will not have to change the expression of their beliefs or how they serve their congregations, as a result of the enactment of hate crimes legislation.

I am also pleased to see that the Conference Report includes most of Senator Schumer's Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act, which had been attached to the Senate-passed bill. That bill would facilitate the ability of military and overseas voters to request voter registration and absentee ballot applications by mail and electronically, the ability of election officials to transmit blank absentee ballots to military and overseas voters, and the ability of military voters to return their completed paper ballots safely, securely and free of charge by express mail, with generous pick-up and delivery time-frames. The latter provisions are similar to my own legislation on that topic, the Military and Overseas Voting Enhancement Act, which was the very first election reform bill I introduced in the House this session.

I would also like to commend my colleague Ms. Maloney, who I was pleased to collaborate with on her Overseas Voting Practical Amendments Act, which included provisions to facilitate the use of electronic transmission for outgoing applications and ballots similar to those in the Schumer bill that were not covered by my bill. I agree with Senator Schumer that facilitating the ability of our service men and women to vote conveniently, expeditiously, securely, and--to say

the least--for free--should be our top priority. They put their lives on the line for us every day, and the electoral process should recognize their sacrifice accordingly.

However, whatever we do to facilitate the ability of our military personnel to vote, we must never do it at the expense of the security or privacy of their votes. The strong language included in the conference report requires that the privacy of our military and overseas voters be protected. And in providing only for the express mail return of completed hard copy ballots, it also recognizes that return of completed ballots by electronic means presents security risks. However, the bill calls for the study of ``new election technology'' to facilitate the ability of our military and overseas voters to vote. We must remember that ``new'' does not necessarily mean better, and that too often technology has been adopted before being properly evaluated for the potential unintended consequences it may cause.

Chlorofluorocarbons were hailed as an innovation in refrigeration; we've since discovered that they damaged the ozone layer, so they are now banned. Asbestos was hailed for its insulation properties; we've since discovered that it causes lung disease, so it is now banned. DDT was hailed as a disease-fighting pesticide and its inventor was awarded the Nobel Prize; we've since discovered it causes serious harm to living organisms, so it is now banned. Electronic voting machines were hailed as making voting easier and more accessible; we've since learned that in most cases their results cannot be reliably and consistently verified. Whatever we do to enhance the ability of our military and overseas voters to vote, we must never implement anything that could compromise the accuracy, integrity, and security of the vote count.

One key provision in the House version of the bill that is not in this conference report is a requirement that the Secretary of Defense conduct suicide prevention outreach to every Individual Ready Reserve member who has done at least one tour in Iraq or Afghanistan. I was astonished to learn that some in the Senate objected to this provision on the grounds of costs. How much would it cost the Defense Department to task the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs to have his staff make phone calls to check up on IRR members who might be at risk of taking their own lives? If we can find tens of millions of dollars to buy extra engines for the F-35 fighter that the Pentagon doesn't want, there is no excuse for the Congress not to find the money to help prevent combat veterans from killing themselves.

Finally, this bill requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to ``submit to the congressional defense committees separate reports containing assessments of the extent to which the campaign plan for Iraq and the campaign plan for Afghanistan (including the supporting and implementing documents for each such plan) each adhere to military doctrine.'' Unfortunately, we need far more than a simple assessment as to whether our armed forces are fighting according to established doctrine. What we need is a critical examination of whether they should be fighting in Afghanistan at all. Some of us have asked for a plan of success or a plan of withdrawal before sending another wave of soldiers. We have received no such plan.

As I've stated previously, I will not support an endless military commitment in this region. If a year from now I do not see unambiguous indicators of success--fewer civilian casualties, Afghan and Pakistani security forces in the lead on the security mission, genuine progress in rebuilding Afghanistan's devastated infrastructure and civil institutions--I will not support further funding for operations and will support only measures that will bring our forces home, and quickly.

On balance, this is a good bill and I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting it.

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