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Senate refuses to kill anti-crime bill filibuster

By
STEVE GERSTEL

WASHINGTON -- The Senate, stymied by rock-hard Republican opposition, refused Thursday to kill a GOP filibuster, backed by President Bush, that is blocking the strongest and most comprehensive anti-crime bill ever to move through Congress.

The Senate voted 54-43 to end the filibuster, six votes short of the needed 60. An initial attempt failed last year 49-38.

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The compromise bill, negotiated by the Senate and House, has already passed the House but has been stalled in the Senate since November.

The deadlock appeared to doom any prospects for an election-year crime bill as the two sides, almost solidly along party lines, hardened their positions.

Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would attempt to fashion a new bill if Republicans and the administration want to make the attempt.

'In an election year, with a president who appears to be scared to death of the right in his party ... the odds are there will be no bill,' Biden said. 'And that is a crying shame.'

Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, said Republicans will offer their version of the anti-crime bill as an amendment to every bill that moves through the Senate until the end of the session.

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Biden said the bill 'is a very, very extensive piece of legislation and more importantly it is the strongest crime bill ever to come to this point in the legislative process.'

But Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., ranking Republican on the judiciary committee, said, 'The crime bill is not going to pass the Senate.'

'If this bill were truly a tough crime bill it would pass,' Thurmond said. 'This weak bill expands the rights of criminals. It is a fraud. It is a sham.'

Thurmond also told the Senate that Bush informed him, 'If the conference report is sent to me, I will veto it.'

The compromise bill provides the death penalty for 53 offenses, including drug kingpins who do not commit murder; limits appeals to federal courts by death row inmates to one per prisoner filed within a year; provides a waiting period of five business days prior to the purchase of a handgun, and allows the introduction of evidence seized in searches even if technical errors are made.

The $3.3 billion bill also provides aid for state and local law enforcement, creates a Police Corps under which college students can get scholarships in return for a committment to do police work; establishes drug prisons and boot camps, designates drug emergency areas, create anti-gang programs and goes after crimes and drugs in rural areas.

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The most contentious issue is the one dealing with death row appeals. The administration and Senate Republicans want a bill that allows an appeal within 180 days and rejects all that have had a 'full and fair' hearing at the state level.

Also controversial is the waiting period for a handgun -- the so- called Brady bill -- opposed by the National Rifle Association and many Republicans.

Biden said, 'Since this filibuster started (in November) ... 7,200 Americans have been murdered. Since my Republican friends started, 34, 400 women have been raped. Since the filibuster started, 558,500 Americans have been victimized by violent crimes on the streets, in their offices, in their homes -- over half a billion people.'

Biden said he was not suggesting that there would have been no additional murders, rapes or crimes of violence would have occurred if the bill had passed but added that the situation has become aggravated.

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