Washington » Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday he would reintroduce legislation setting up a federal task force to crack down on polygamy-related crimes and would urge new Attorney General Eric Holder to take action as well.
Reid, a Nevada Democrat and Mormon convert, made a push for his measure last year after the raid of a polygamous community in Texas grabbed national headlines. Now, a year later, the Nevada senator says he still believes the federal government needs to step in.
"These people who are doing this -- many of them are doing things that are immoral, and in many instances illegal," Reid said at a breakfast meeting with reporters. "There's a lot of welfare fraud that goes on, domestic abuse that goes on. ... I think we have an obligation to help these women and children who are being victimized."
Asked whether he would bring back his bill to create a federal task force, Reid said, "I sure am."
The Democratic leader also said he would reach out to Holder -- who was sworn in Friday as the nation's top law-enforcement official -- and ask him to do something about crimes in polygamous communities.
"I just haven't had time but I'm going to speak to the attorney general personally about this," Reid said. "It's something we need to do."
A fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints spokesman denounced Reid's threatened crackdown as an abuse of power.
"Senator Harry Reid needs to stop using his religion to abuse another religion," said Willie Jessop. "It is a sick-minded individual who uses the power entrusted in him to promote genocide and hate. He has never allowed the truth to get in the way of his sick agenda. I'm grateful his views are not shared by all the people of his faith. I think he is the exception. The nation needs not only a financial stimulus package but a morals one, and he could spend his time more wisely focusing on that."
Reid's move last summer to create a federal task force prompted the first congressional hearing on polygamy in a half-century, and several witnesses alleged rampant child abuse as well as welfare fraud inside some polygamous sects.
A Salt Lake Tribune review, though, of data for Eldorado, Texas, where the FLDS built a ranch, and in the polygamy dominated towns of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., don't show more than average use of government welfare programs.
Reid's legislation introduced last year would create a federal task force to combat polygamy-related crimes and also provide assistance to anyone who is "exploited or otherwise victimized by practitioners of polygamy." The bill never reached a committee vote.
Brooke Adams contributed to this report