Steve Russell
Oklahoma Sen. Steve Russell

Just up the road in Oklahoma, the state Senate yesterday approved an amendment that’s apparently designed to opt out of federal hate crimes protections for LGBT people:

In an amendment presented on the Senate floor Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City, gutted a bill that had been filed to create a task force to study the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, and inserted language to make changes to the state’s hate crime statutes.
Under the new provisions of Senate Bill 1965, reports that were collected during investigations of possible hate crime that did not end in a conviction would be destroyed or kept by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
Russell said the bill is meant to prevent the federal law enforcement officials from taking over a case and applying different standards when local law enforcement has already investigated a case.
Only a few senators questioned Russell about the contents of his proposed amendment.
The measure passed 39-6 and now heads to the House for consideration.

Russell has previously proposed stand-alone legislation to opt out of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, passed by Congress last year:

State Sen. Steve Russell, R-Oklahoma City, said the newly passed Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which extends hate crimes law protections to include actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability, oversteps the bounds of the federal government and hinders free speech and religious freedom.
“The federal government should not be creating a special class of people, and that is just what they did when they passed and signed this bill,” Russell said. “All crimes against another person have some level of hate in them, and people can be assured that our laws that protect people against crimes such as murder are sufficient to protect everyone.”
Russell said because the government has decided to intervene on issues of morality, he is worried that religious leaders who speak out against any lifestyle could be imprisoned for their speech.
“The law is very vague to begin with,” Russell said. “Sexual orientation is a very vague word that could be extended to extremes like necrophilia.”
Russell said he is also concerned if someone is attacked and killed for his or her sexual orientation, the suspect could pass the blame onto a religious leader who preached out against the lifestyle of the victim who was attacked.
Russell said, as a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, he is upset that the new hate crimes bill was attached to a defense spending bill.
“This bill couldn’t stand on its own merits through multiple sessions of Congress, so a few activist representatives stuck it into a defense spending bill,” Russell said. “A bill supporting the troops was turned into an activist bill where, if you voted against the hate crimes act, it made you look like you were voting against the troops.”

UPDATE: The Equality Network, Oklahoma’s nonpartisan statewide LGBT advocacy organization, has issued a formal response. Read it after the jump.

Oklahoma State Senate Votes to Obstruct Federal Hate Crimes Law
Tulsa – March 11 – The Equality Network (TEN) is outraged by the Oklahoma State Senate’s 39-6 vote in support of SB 1965, a bill that forces state law enforcement officials to obstruct the provisions of the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Protection Act that protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. Using an amendment to gut the language of a bill that had been filed to create a task force to study the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, Senator Steve Russell (R-Oklahoma City) inserted the text of SB 2165, a bill that the Senate Judiciary Committee had declined to pass on to the floor.
The new SB 1965 leaves LGBT Oklahomans no legal recourse if they are victims of hate crimes. Not only does the state hate crimes law exclude sexual orientation or gender identity, but SB 1965 also prevents law enforcement officials from asking for federal assistance in enforcing the LGBT-inclusive federal hate crimes law. The bill does not seek to repeal federal or state hate crimes protections accorded on the basis of race, national origin, religion, or disability. Instead, it intentionally excludes only hate crimes perpetrated on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, two categories added to federal hate crimes law by the U.S. Congress in October 2009.
“Senator Russell’s bill is truly terrifying in its implications.” warns Kathy L. Williams, Ph.D., president of The Equality Network. “This legislation sends the message that violence against LGBT Oklahomans is acceptable. It also sets a chilling precedent that Oklahoma will only enforce certain federal laws and cooperate only with selected federal agencies. We believe this unconstitutional and blatantly discriminatory bill will harm all Oklahomans, regardless of their identity and regardless of whether or not they are victims of hate crimes.”
SB 1965 will now be considered by the Oklahoma House of Representatives. If the measure passes the House and is signed by Governor Brad Henry, it will become state law.
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