Senate Advances Sweeping Anti-Crime Bill, Gun Curbs : Legislation: The omnibus measure would reinstate the federal death penalty, speed many executions, expand the assault-type weapon ban.
The Senate early today moved within a hair of passing a sweeping anti-crime bill that would reinstate the federal death penalty, speed the execution of many Death Row inmates and expand a ban on semiautomatic assault-type weapons.
The omnibus measure also would authorize hiring 2,500 additional federal law enforcement agents and 480 prosecutors for the war on drugs, give $450 million more to local police agencies and provide $400 million in college scholarships to students who agree to serve as police officers for four years.
The bill, similar to a measure pending in a House committee, was scheduled for a final Senate vote after Congress returns from its Fourth of July recess. Passage is expected.
The Senate moved quickly on the bill Thursday after breaking a month-long procedural logjam that had threatened to doom the legislation.
Following emotional debates, senators refused to substitute mandatory life imprisonment for the federal death penalty, and they rejected a new bid by the gun lobby to delete from the bill an enlarged ban on rapid-firing weapons.
Already adopted last month was a far-reaching overhaul of the habeas corpus system under which state and federal Death Row inmates try to reverse their sentences or delay execution. Such delays, which now average eight years, would be limited to about a year under the bill.
The Supreme Court ruled in 1972 that capital punishment could not be carried out unless certain safeguards were enacted, including a separate sentencing trial. Many states have instituted the safeguards, but the federal death penalty has not been reinstated.
The Senate bill would provide the court-required safeguards for the federal government, as well as expand the death penalty to cover more than 30 crimes, including murder, espionage, treason, aircraft hijacking, kidnaping and hostage taking.
In late action, the Senate added “drug kingpins” to the death penalty list.
An effort by Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) to replace the death penalty with mandatory life imprisonment was rejected, 73 to 25.
“We seem to be on a death penalty rampage,” Sen. John H. Chafee (R-R.I.) complained as he expressed support for the Hatfield amendment. “We’ve applied it to everything but school truancy.”
On the other side, Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) said the public overwhelmingly supports the penalty as a deterrent to crime.
Republicans forced several votes on the explosive death penalty issue, clearly hoping to use it as ammunition in Senate campaigns this fall. It is not likely to figure in the California governor’s race, however, because Sen. Pete Wilson, the GOP nominee, and Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic candidate, both support capital punishment.
Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who is not up for reelection until 1992, voted against the death penalty.
Last summer, President Bush banned the import of 47 models of the military-style assault weapons, but he and the National Rifle Assn. strongly opposed extending the ban to 14 other models, mostly American-made.
On Thursday, the Senate turned back for a third time an effort to get rid of the proposed new ban on such models as the AK-47, Uzi, Tec 9 and Colt AR-15.
Opponents had hoped to turn around the vote of Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato (R-N.Y.). That would have produced a tie, enabling Vice President Dan Quayle--who rushed to Capitol Hill to preside over the Senate--to cast the deciding vote against the ban.
But D’Amato stood fast while being lobbied during the roll call by Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and other opponents.
Thus, the three-year ban promoted by Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) was upheld, 50 to 48. It was a victory for police organizations and gun control groups who argued that assault-type weapons are being used increasingly in violent crimes.
Opponents tried to win over votes by offering an alternative to stiffen penalties for crimes involving assault weapons. But the Senate wound up adopting both the ban and the new penalties.
On habeas corpus appeals, a committee headed by former Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. recommended a major streamlining.
Death Row inmates routinely seek writs of habeas corpus in state and federal courts in conjunction with other appeals. Inmates now must exhaust their petitions in state courts before making collateral attacks on their convictions in federal court.
The legislation would eliminate the exhaustion of state proceedings as a prerequisite for federal appeals and would require federal courts to complete review of habeas corpus petitions within a year.
States could adopt the faster procedure only if they provide competent counsel to the prisoner facing execution.