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October 23, 2009

 

Hate crime bill passes House; Obama will sign

Washington, D.C.--The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act on October 8 as part of the authorization that funds the Department of Defense for 2010.

Once the Senate votes for concurrence, the measure will be on its way to the desk of President Obama, who has pledged to sign it.

With his signature, the measure would become only the second significant pro-LGBT federal law to be enacted. The first was 19 years ago: the Hate Crime Statistics Act, directing the FBI to collect information on anti-gay crimes.

The Senate voted in July to attach the Shepard act to the budget which funds war efforts, as it is considered to be a “must pass” bill.

This is a tactic the late Massachusetts Senator Edward Kennedy, the bill’s first sponsor in 1997, began doing during the Bush Administration. Back then, Republicans in both chambers blocked it as a stand alone bill.

Since, the hate crime bill has passed the House or Senate five times, but it was always removed in conference committee between the chambers.

This time it will stay in.

The bill gives the Justice Department the authority to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violent crime where the victim has been selected due to actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

These will be added to race, religion, color, national origin and gender, which are already covered by the existing federal hate crime law.

The change allows hate crime against LGBT people to be prosecuted federally in states like Ohio where no state protection exists.

It also makes money available to state and local governments to combat hate crime committed by juveniles, train law enforcement officers on the characteristics of hate crime, and keep better records of its occurrence.

The House vote also changed the name of the law to “The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” honoring the memory of another victim of hate violence--in the same year as Matthew Shepard--an African-American man who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas.

The House also removed a provision allowing the death penalty to be applied.

The strategy of attaching such bills to “must pass” legislation shifts the political dynamics of passing them.

The House vote of 281 to 146, was for the whole appropriation, not on the merit of hate crime legislation.

Because of that, House members like Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland, who support the hate crime measure but opposed the larger appropriation, voted against it, as did other LGBT-affirming Democrats.

Judiciary Chair John Conyers of Detroit, who has sponsored the hate crime bill, also voted against the war funding one.

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Cincinnati also voted against the appropriation because he wanted more money to go to the Pentagon. He has opposed the stand-alone hate crime legislation and opposed attaching it to this bill.

Two other Ohio representatives, Republicans Steve LaTourette of Painesville and Jim Jordon of Norwalk, also opposed the package.

All other Ohio representatives voted for it.

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