U.S. Senate Holds Hearing On Hate Crimes Legislation

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, today thanked the Senate Judiciary Committee for holding a hearing on the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 909). The legislation, which was passed in the U.S. House by a vote of 249-175 in April, would provide local police and sheriff's departments with federal resources to combat hate violence. The hearing included an appearance by Attorney General Eric Holder, the first time an Attorney General has testified in favor of this legislation, and written testimony from Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

"We appreciate the Senate for holding this hearing and urge action on hate crimes legislation before the August recess," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "After more than a decade and nine successful votes in Congress, there is no good reason for any delay on bringing this bill to the President's desk. Too many families have been devastated by hate violence. We must finally pass this bill and start the important steps to erasing hate in our country."

The Matthew Shepard Act 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.

Because there is no federal law mandating states and municipalities to report hate crimes, they are often underreported. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's own statistics, based on voluntary reporting, show that since 1991 over 100,000 hate crime offenses 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.

There have been nine successful votes on the Matthew Shepard Act. It was previously introduced in the 110th Congress by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and offered as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization (DoD) bill. After a successful 60-39 vote to prevent a filibuster, the Matthew Shepard Act was adopted by voice vote and added to the DoD bill. The hate crimes provision was later not included in the final version of the DoD bill.

Working in coalition with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Human Rights Campaign continues to mobilize its members to pass this legislation. The website www.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 throughout the Senate action on the legislation.

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Contributed by:
Human Rights Campaign
1101 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20005
(202) 628-4160
(202) 347-5323 FAX

http://www.hrc.org/

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