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Oklahoma not OK as anti-Gay Senate bungles bills
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Oklahoma not OK as anti-Gay Senate bungles bills

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In trying to sabotage enforcement of new hate crimes laws protecting LGBT people, the Oklahoma State Senate accidentally declared their state exempt from federal laws protecting race and religion.

As reported in SGN (March 12), the Oklahoma Senate voted 39-6 to require state prosecutors to destroy evidence collected in investigations under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Act, or to turn it over to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

The stated intention of the bill's author, Republican Sen. Steve Russell, was to thwart U.S. Justice Department investigation of hate crimes targeting LGBT victims.

The Justice Department's Civil Rights Division and the FBI would typically rely on evidence collected by state or local authorities. Without access to such evidence, they would not be able to establish a case.

Russell made one mistake, however: He cited the wrong federal law code section in his bill.

Protections for sexual orientation and gender identity are in Title 18 U.S. Code Section 249, but the Oklahoma bill cited Section 245 instead. Section 245 refers to crimes motivated by race or religion.

Oklahoma Senate Minority Leader Andrew Rice (D-Oklahoma City) pointed out the defect on March 27.

"The bill in its current form doesn't take away rights from Gays and Lesbians," Rice said. 'It takes away rights for religion and race."

The Oklahoma House of Representatives has not yet voted on the measure. If they amended it to cite the correct section of the federal law code, the bill would have to return to the Senate side for another vote.

Even if passed by Oklahoma's legislature, nullification of federal law is unlikely to stand up to federal court tests.

Opponents of Russell's bill argue it would expose Oklahoma officials to federal obstruction of justice charges if they failed to turn over evidence demanded by federal investigators.

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