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SENATE OPPOSES LETTING CONVICTS CITE RACE DATA

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As urged in speeches for weeks by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the Senate on Wednesday opposed a House proposal to allow convicts to appeal death sentences with statistics that may show minorities are more likely to receive them.

"The so-called Racial Justice Act has nothing to do with racial justice and everything to do with abolishing the death penalty," Hatch told the Senate before the vote.It voted 58-41 to adopt a resolution sponsored by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., urging House-Senate conferees working out differences in crime bills to "totally reject the so-called Racial Justice Act provisions." The resolution is not binding, however.

The House voted 217-212 last month to adopt the controversial act, setting the stage for conflict with the Senate. Hatch - who will lead Republican Senate conferees on the bill - gave frequent Senate floor speeches against it for the past two weeks.

He said in debate Wednesday, "If the so-called Racial Justice Act becomes law, states will either be forced to divert their scarce law enforcement resources into fighting a battle of statistics, or they will have no choice but to abandon the death penalty."

D'Amato - who led the fight for the resolution - said the House proposal is "an exercise in political correctness" that "has nothing to do with guilt or innocence."

However on the other side, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said use of such statistics is needed to ensure that the death penalty is not imposed because of race.

Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., the only black in the Senate, said studies show "there's no question but that the race of the defendant, and most importantly the race of the victim, matters in the imposition of the death penalty - and that's not what America is all about."