WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives today voted to pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, H.R. 1592, in a vote of 237 to 180. The proposed legislation, which has the endorsement of 230 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations and the support of 73 percent of the American people, was introduced in March by Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., along with more than 100 other members of Congress. The Senate will soon consider an identical companion bill called the Matthew Shepard Act.
"This is a historic day that moves all Americans closer to safety from the scourge of hate violence," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "Today, legislators sided with the 73 percent of the American people who support the expansion of hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
"The Human Rights Campaign thanks Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer and the entire House leadership, whose dedication made this vote a success. We also commend the bipartisan coalition of leaders who co-sponsored and supported the bill for so long, including Representatives Baldwin, Bono, Frank, Nadler, Ros-Lehtinen and Shays," added Solmonese.
"I am personally grateful to the United States House for recognizing the grave reality of hate crimes in America," said Judy Shepard, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
Each year, thousands of Americans are violently attacked just because they are black, female, Christian or gay. According to the FBI, 25 Americans each day are victims of hate crimes - that means approximately one hate crime is committed every hour. One in six hate crimes are motivated by the victim's sexual orientation.
Specifically, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act would strengthen the ability of federal, state and local governments to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, religion, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity.
It would strengthen state and local efforts by enabling the Justice Department to assist in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. The bill will also provide grants to help state and local governments meet the extraordinary expenses involved in hate crime cases.
At the federal level, the LLEHCPA would eliminate the outdated intent requirement in current law that prevents the Justice Department from working with state and local officials in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. It would allow the federal government to step in when needed, but only after the department has certified that a federal prosecution is necessary.
The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act would strengthen the ability of law enforcement officials to investigate and prosecute hate crimes by:
. Under the current federal law, enacted nearly 40 years ago, the government has the authority to help investigate and prosecute bias-motivated attacks based on race, color, national origin and religion and because the victim was attempting to exercise a federally protected right. For example, authorities became involved in a Salt Lake City case where James Herrick set fire to a Pakistani restaurant on Sept. 13, 2001. Herrick was sentenced to 51 months' incarceration on Jan. 7, 2002, after pleading guilty to violating 18 U.S.C. § 245.
However, under current law, the federal government is not able to help in cases where women, gay, transgender or disabled Americans are victims of bias-motivated crimes for who they are. For example, in Texas, in July 2005, four men brutally assaulted a gay man. While punching and kicking him, whipping him with a vacuum chord and assaulting him with daggers, the offenders told the victim that they attacked him because he was gay. Two of the men were sentenced to six years in prison under a plea bargain that dropped the charges that could have sent them to prison for life. Under this bill, federal authorities would have had the jurisdiction to prosecute the crime or could have provided local authorities resources that might have assisted them in pursuing a longer sentence.
The act would provide crucial federal resources to state and local agencies and equip local law enforcement officers with the tools they need to investigate and prosecute crimes. While most states recognize the problem of hate violence, and many have enacted laws to help combat this serious issue, federal government recognition of the problem is crucial to its solution. Too many local jurisdictions lack the full resources necessary to prosecute hate crimes. For example, when Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyo., in 1998, the investigation and prosecution of the case cost the community of 28,000 residents about $150,000, forcing the sheriff's department to lay off five deputies in order to save money.
The act would allow federal authorities to become involved if local authorities are unwilling or unable to act. In the hate crime on which the film Boys Don't Cry was based, 21-year-old Brandon Teena was raped and later killed by two friends after they discovered he was biologically female. After the rape and assault, Teena reported the crime to the police, but Richardson County Sheriff Richard Laux, who referred to Teena as "it," did not allow his deputies to arrest the two men responsible. Five days later, those two men shot and stabbed Teena to death in front of two witnesses, Lisa Lambert and Philip DeVine, who were then also murdered. JoAnn Brandon, Teena's mother, filed a civil suit against Laux, claiming that he was negligent in failing to arrest the men immediately after the rape. The court found that the county was at least partially responsible for Teena's death and characterized Laux's behavior as "extreme and outrageous." Had this federal hate crime law been in effect, federal authorities could have investigated and prosecuted the offenders when the local authorities refused to do so.
A wide coalition of national organizations has called for the passage of the LLEHCPA legislation. Some of those supporting this legislation include: the National Sheriffs Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 26 state attorneys general and the National District Attorneys Association.
For additional information on hate crimes visit the Human Rights Campaign website at www.hrc.org
The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against GLBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.
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