Committee reaches compromise on hate crime resolution

Posted: Sunday, May 06, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- In a compromise over a hate crimes resolution, a House-Senate conference committee agreed Friday to condemn ''wrongful discrimination.''

The committee was appointed after the House and Senate passed different versions of a resolution condemning a January paintball attack against Alaska Natives in Anchorage.

The measure, which had first passed the House in March, was changed in the Senate to condemn only ''unlawful'' discrimination.

Some senators said the change was needed because certain forms of discrimination are legal, such as age restrictions for voting and driving.

That change didn't sit well with House members, who said the Senate version of the resolution was too timid and amounted to condemning behavior that's already illegal.

The conference committee failed in its first attempt at compromise two weeks ago. Committee leaders Jeannette James, R-North Pole, and Jerry Ward, R-Anchorage, apparently had worked behind the scenes since then to come up with an agreement.

In less than five minutes Friday, they signed off on the new language, changing the word ''unlawful'' to ''wrongful'' throughout the resolution.

''It was now or never to get this thing done,'' James said, explaining the quick action.

The meeting, which happened later than its scheduled time and in a different room than had been publicly noted earlier in the day, ended before one committee member, Rep. Ethan Berkowitz, arrived.

Berkowitz, D-Anchorage, said he had come to the meeting earlier and found no one there, so he left for a few minutes. When he returned, the meeting was over.

He would not have supported the change, Berkowitz said.

''I do not think you parse words, I do not think you equivocate when you're condemning acts of discrimination,'' he said.

Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, said she would have preferred to go with the House language, which she thought was stronger, but she agreed to the compromise.

''I would hate to have left here without even having a resolution saying we do not support that incident that took place in Anchorage,'' Davis said.

The resolution is in response to an incident earlier this year in which three young white men videotaped themselves shooting paintballs at Alaska Natives in downtown Anchorage. The measure condemns the act and calls for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to investigate that and similar incidents.

The compromise version now will go to the House and Senate for a vote.

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