House rejects gay 'hate crimes' measure


ANNAPOLIS -- The House of Delegates passed two civil rights measures yesterday involving housing discrimination and religious and ethnic crimes, but killed by a single vote a third bill that would have required police to gather data on "hate crimes" against homosexuals.

"That was the 'gay bashing' bill," complained the bill's sponsor, Delegate Gene W. Counihan, D-Montgomery.

The measure would have expanded existing police and fire department reporting requirements for racial or ethnic hate crimes to include crimes based on "sexual orientation." But the bill died on a surprise 70-49 vote, just one vote shy of the constitutional majority of 71 required for passage in the 141-member House.

Among the 49 who voted against the bill and the 20 others who simply abstained from voting were most members of the House leadership: Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr., D-Kent; the majority leader, D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington; four chairmen of the House's six standing committees; and at least four other lower-level members of the leadership.

"I personally felt it was asking too much for people already burdened with a lot of reports," explained Speaker Mitchell. "They have better things to do with their time."

Mr. Poole said: "A lot of us felt the bill was probably more popular in political thought than it would be effective in reality. Given the choice, I'd rather have police and firefighters out on the streets."

Judiciary Committee Chairman John S. Arnick, D-Baltimore County, said he and other members of his committee had already killed a couple of bills this session that contained the phrase "sexual orientation" because they believed it to be too vague. One committee member, Delegate Kenneth H. Masters, D-Baltimore County, asked on the House floor why the legislation was not specific if the sponsors meant to single out crimes against homosexuals.

"It's all-encompassing," Mr. Arnick said of the "sexual orientation" phrase. "It would cover any sexual orientation, even anything that is normal."

Delegate Counihan agreed on that point, saying that if a homosexual battered a heterosexual, the reporting requirement would still apply. He called the bill "a pretty modest proposal" and said he intends to ask the House to reconsider its action.

"There's a fair amount of evidence that gay men and lesbians may be among the most victimized people in our society," he said.

The other bills passed include one, approved 94-34, that would make Maryland's fair housing law substantially equivalent to the new federal fair housing law. The purpose is to allow Maryland's Commission on Human Relations to continue to process housing discrimination complaints that otherwise would be handled by the federal housing department.

Also passed, 130-0, was a bill sponsored by Delegate James W. Campbell, D-Baltimore, that would make it a crime to commit religious or ethnic crimes against public institutions, such as schools, libraries, recreation centers, meeting halls or cemeteries.

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