Hate Crimes Bill passes in U.S. House, moves to Senate

In a bipartisan vote of 249-175, the U.S. House passed yesterday the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known in the U.S. Senate as the Matthew Shepard Act.

GLBT civil rights groups across the country including the Stonewall Democrats and the Human Rights Campaign hailed the decision.

“All Americans are one step closer to protection from hate violence thanks to today’s vote,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Hate crimes are a scourge on our communities and it’s time we give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this serious problem.”

The LLEHCPA gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

It provides the Justice Department with the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions either by lending assistance or, where local authorities are unwilling or unable, by taking the lead in investigations and prosecutions of violent crime resulting in death or serious bodily injury that were motivated by bias. It also makes grants available to state and local communities to combat violent crimes committed by juveniles, train law enforcement officers, or to assist in state and local investigations and prosecutions of bias motivated crimes.
On Tuesday, the White House released a statement from President Obama calling for passage in the House and urging the Senate to follow with swift action. Along with the President, more than 300 law enforcement, civil rights and religious organizations support the bill.
“The Senate should heed the President’s leadership and quickly pass the Matthew Shepard Act,” said Solmonese. “After more than ten years and tens of thousands of victims, there should be no delay in passing this bill into law.”
This is the eighth successful vote on a federal hate crimes bill which – following a veto threat from former President Bush – died in the last Congress.
“Fair-minded leaders in Congress have for years stood strong against lies about the bill and we are grateful for their efforts,” continued Solmonese. “The leadership of Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer and Majority Whip Clyburn as well as Reps. Conyers, Kirk, Baldwin, Frank, and Polis made this incredible victory possible.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Jon Hoadley, Executive Director of the Stonewall Democrats. 

"We now have a President who is willing to sign this crucial legislation into law and that is why we continue to build support for its passage in the United States Senate," Hoadley said. " The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act would close legal loopholes which treats violence targeting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community as less important that crimes committed on the basis of other factors.  This legislation gives local law enforcement agencies the tools that they need to equally prosecute bias motivated crimes."

Working in coalition with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Human Rights Campaign mobilized its members to support the bill. The Web site FightHateNow.org gives users opportunities to contact their member of Congress, watch video testimonials on hate crimes and learn the truth about the legislation. The site will continue as a clearinghouse for information leading up to Senate action.

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