May 4, 2007
Volume 35
Issue 18
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House passes Hate Crimes bill
House passes Hate Crimes bill
Washington State: Six Democrats, one Republican vote for legislation

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592) passed the U.S. House of Representatives 237-180 on Thursday. The bill aims to provide local police and sheriff's departments with federal resources to combat bias-motivated crimes.

"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 measure had strong support among Washington's congressional delegation. Republican Representative Dave Reichert (R-8th) joined with Democratic Representatives Brian Baird (D-3rd), Norm Dicks (D-6th), Jay Inslee (D-1st), Rick Larsen (D-2nd), Jim McDermott (D-8th), and Adam Smith (D-9th) in voting for the measure. Republican Rep. Doc Hastings (R-4th) voted to defeat the H.R. 1592, while Rep. Cathy McMorris (R-5th) did not vote on the bill.

The measure was introduced last March by Reps. John Conyers, D-MI, and Mark Kirk, R-IL, and was cosponsored by more than 100 members of Congress, including several from Washington State. "This legislation is absolutely the right thing to do and it is the right time to do it," said McDermott, a co-sponsor of the bill. "The fact that this legislation was only introduced in late March and passed a few weeks later correctly demonstrates the urgent need to act.

"I think passage of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act will stand as one of the best achievements in the 110th Congress; it will certainly stand as a piece of legislation I am especially proud to have championed on behalf of the people of the 7th Congressional District."

The bill would give the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence because of a person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It also allows the Justice Department to aid state and local jurisdictions either by lending assistance or by taking the lead in investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes motivated by bias. Grants would also become available to state and local communities to combat bias-motivated crimes.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's statistics show that more than 100,000 hate crime offenses have been reported to the FBI since 1991. Violent crimes based on sexual orientation constituted 14.2 percent of all hate crimes in 2005. However, those numbers, according to experts, are likely much higher because reporting of bias-motivated crimes is based on a voluntary system.

"Every day somewhere in this country, an innocent person is victimized or traumatized because of their race, religion or sexual preference; that is wrong and intolerable and I will not stand by while civil rights are beaten back or shouted down," added McDermott. "This legislation would provide local law enforcement with resources they need and don't have to vigorously pursue and prevent hate crimes."

According to a statement from the White House, President George W. Bush will veto the bill -- despite the endorsement of 230 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations.

"The Administration favors strong criminal penalties for violent crime, including crime based on personal characteristics, such as race, color, religion, or national origin," read a statement from the Executive Office of the President. "However, the Administration believes that H.R. 1592 is unnecessary and constitutionally questionable."

On Thursday, McDermott condemned the President and all who voted against the measure. "I cannot imagine why any member of the House would vote against it, and it is incomprehensible to me that the President would immediately vow to veto this legislation; then again, nothing about this President's actions on important issues surprises me anymore," he said.

Judy Shepard, whose son was brutally beaten and left tied to a fence in the Wyoming countryside before he later died from his injuries, lobbied Congress for passage of the legislation. The Senate will soon consider an identical companion bill, named in honor of her son, called the Matthew Shepard Act. "I am personally grateful to the United States House for recognizing the grave reality of hate crimes in America," said Shepard, executive director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

The investigation of Matthew Shepard's murder and the trial of his killers cost Albany County in Wyoming more than $150,000. The unplanned financial burden forced the Sheriff's Department to furlough five of its employees. Shepard hopes passage of the legislation would prevent similar hardships on local jurisdictions.
photo above: Judy Shepard (l), mother of hate crime victim Matthew Shepard, and Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., after the vote.

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