Press Room

June 14, 2004

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HRC Praises Senate Vote to Ensure Full Prosecution of Hate Crimes

'We must ensure that some of the most heinous crimes are fully prosecuted,' said HRC President Cheryl Jacques.

WASHINGTON - Passing the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act today by an overwhelming 65 to 33 bipartisan vote, the U.S. Senate took an important step toward giving law enforcement the tools they need to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. The bill was passed as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill.

"We must ensure that some of the most heinous crimes are fully prosecuted," said Human Rights Campaign President Cheryl Jacques. "Hate crimes are perpetrated by criminals trying to divide Americans. It's critical Americans are united in prosecuting these violent crimes."

Sens. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa. were the lead co-sponsors of today's amendment, which would add real or perceived sexual orientation, gender and disability to federal hate crime laws, thus allowing the federal government the ability to provide assistance for the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes based on these categories.

LLEEA enjoys strong bipartisan support and is endorsed by more than 175 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations, including: the National Sheriffs' Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, U.S. Conference of Mayors, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and many others.

"Law enforcement organizations are urging passage of this bill and today the Senate delivered again," said Jacques. "It is time for the Congress to finally honor the memory of Matthew Shepard, Barry Winchell, Alan Schindler, Fred Martinez and so many others by passing this legislation. We hope it will survive the conference on the defense bill and that President Bush will sign it into law."

Since HRC expects an announcement very soon from Majority Leader Frist about the scheduling of a vote on the Federal Marriage Amendment, she added, "For those who will try to use the vote on hate crimes for some political inoculation on the FMA, it is clear the American people do not want the U.S. Constitution undermined with this discriminatory and unnecessary amendment. Nothing Congress or the president does on any other issue will change that fact."

The most recent FBI data on hate crimes shows that 16.7 percent of reported hate crimes incidents in 2002 were committed due to bias against the victim's perceived sexual orientation - the highest level in the 12 years since the agency began collecting these statistics. Sexual orientation bias represents the third highest category of reported hate crimes.

LLEEA has already passed the Senate in earlier forms on two different occasions - most recently, in June 2000, as an amendment to the Department of Defense authorization bill, by a Senate vote of 57-42, with 13 Republicans. In September 2000, the House also passed a motion to instruct in support of the measure, 232-192, with 41 Republicans. The Senate also passed the legislation in July 1999, as an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, State appropriations bill. Each time the amendment was stripped out in conference committee.

The Human Rights Campaign is the largest national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender political organization with members throughout the country. It effectively lobbies Congress, provides campaign support and educates the public to ensure that LGBT Americans can be open, honest and safe at home, at work and in the community.

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