Heller opposes opinion penalties

U.S. Rep. Dean Heller is under attack from the publicist for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) for opposing a “hate crimes” measure.

“Representative Heller opposed giving state and local law enforcement the tools they need to prevent and prosecute violent hate crimes,” said DCCC spokesperson Jennifer Crider. “Representative Heller ought to explain why every American doesn’t have the right to feel safe in their community, regardless of who they are or what they believe.”

The DCCC is a private committee that provides financial and other resources to Democrats around the nation running for U.S. House seats.

“Hate crime” laws enhance the penalties or create other liabilities for those who commit crimes motivated enmity toward an identifiable group—racial groups, gays, the disabled, members of religions. Such laws are generally opposed by civil libertarians because they penalize opinion, however despicable. The American Civil Liberties Union has opposed most hate crimes legislation.

The measure on which Heller voted, House Resolution 1592, narrowly passed the House on a 222-195 vote and faces a presidential veto. It would extend existing “hate crime” law to gays and its defeat has become a popular cause among evangelicals.

Most criminal law matters are addressed by state laws. Nevada law provides for additional penalties and financial liability for crimes motivated by enmity based on “race, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation of the victim.” During the current legislature, a measure to extend these protections to the homeless died when it was not acted on by a deadline of April 27. It was motivated by trafficking in party videos of groups of young people attacking and brutalizing the homeless.

On another front, Heller’s opposition to a proposed expansion of the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, N.C., became an east-versus-west issue in Congress.

During a committee hearing on the expansion, Republicans Heller and Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah offered amendments to bar purchase of the proposed 115 acres to expand the site. Heller’s amendment would have allowed the expansion only if the additional land was donated. Bishop’s would have limited the expansion of the site to 5 acres.

Heller and Bishop said federal funds should not be used for the purpose, but committee chair Nick Rahall pointed out that the two have made no objections to a similar Western project, the 50-acre expansion of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, sponsored by Republican Barbara Cubin. The Sandburg expansion is sponsored by North Carolina Democrat Heath Shuler.

Both Heller and Bishop’s amendments failed, and the measure was approved by the committee on a voice vote.