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Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention bill back in US Senate
Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention bill back in US Senate
by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLEHCPA), which promises to provide local police and sheriff's departments with federal resources to combat hate violence, was re-introduced into the Senate April 29 after the bill passed with a 249-175 vote in the House of Representatives.

"With passage of this hate crime legislation, we have declared America to be a hate-free zone and I am very proud that I co-sponsored this legislation on behalf of the people of the 7th Congressional District," said Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA). "Even one hate crime is too many in the United States of America and now we have left an indelible mark on our need to protect and defend all Americans."

District 8 Representative Dave Reichert (R-WA) voted yes on the legislation - the only Republican from Washington state to do so.

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBT civil rights organization, said in a press release made available to SGN, the critical piece of legislation was introduced with bipartisan support by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), among others.

According to the legislation, 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.

Additionally, the Justice Department would be provided with the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions either by lending assistance or, where local authorities are unwilling or unable, by taking lead in investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes resulting in death or serious bodily injury that were motivated by bias.

The act would also make 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.

Because there is no current federal law mandating states and municipalities to report hate crimes, they often go unreported. According to The Human Rights Campaign the Federal Bureau of Investigation's own statistics, based on voluntary reporting, show that since in 1991 nearly 130,000 hate crime offensives have been reported to the FBI, with 7,624 reported in 2007, the FBI's most recent reporting period. Violent crimes based on sexual orientation constituted 16.6 percent of all hate crimes in 2007, with 1,265 reported for the year.

In addition, while not captured in the federal statistics, Transgender Americans too often live in fear of violence.

A wide coalition of national organizations has called for the passage of the federal LLEHCPA legislation.

"After more than a decade of delay and tens of thousands of additional victims, now is the time for this critical piece of legislation to be signed into law. We stand with more than 300 law enforcement, civil rights and religious organizations supporting this bill that would provide local police and sheriff's departments with the tools and resources they need to ensure that entire communities are not terrorized by hate violence," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese in a press release Tuesday. "We stand today and urge the U.S. Senate to take quick action and pass the Matthew Shepard Act and send the bill to the president's desk for signature."

Matthew Wayne Shepard, who the bill is named in honor of, was tortured and subsequently murdered near Laramie, Wyoming. He was attacked on the night of October 6, 1998 and died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, October 12, from severe head injuries. During the trial, witnesses stated that Shepard was targeted because he was Gay. His murder brought national as well as international attention to the issue of hate crime legislation at the state and federal levels.

If the hate crimes legislation passes the Senate President Barak Obama is expected to sign the bill into law. Former President George Bush famously threatened to veto the Shepard Act if it came across his desk in 2007.

In Washington, Gov. Christine Gregoire (D-WA) signed Senate Bill 5952 last week, adding Transgender rights to the Washington Hate Crime Law - making Washington one of the only states to extend such rights to the Transgender community.

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