Senate Poised To Do The Right Thing On Hate Crimes (Again)

Activists Concerned House Leaders Will Deny the Popular Measure a Floor Vote

Hate crimes happen every day and terrorize communities around the country. The Department of Justice reported that in 1998, 9,235 hate crime offenses were committed. The Senate Judiciary Committee today passed the proposed Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act, a bill to expand existing federal hate crime protections to include gender, sexual orientation or disability. Supporters of the bill expect it to pass the full Senate with bipartisan support, as it did last year.

People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas applauded the Senate Judiciary Committee’s bipartisan vote to send the legislation to the Senate floor. "It is way past time for our Congress to declare that our nation will not tolerate hate crimes against anybody due to their gender, sexual orientation or disability," said Neas. "This is a popular measure that has the votes in both houses to pass. Let’s hope that this year the House leadership will let it to come to a floor vote."

Under current law, the government must prove that the crime occurred because of a person’s race, religion, color or national origin and while the victim was engaged in a federally protected activity. The proposed legislation would strengthen the federal response to hate crimes motivated by race, color, religion, or national origin; extend the law to cover crimes targeting gender, sexual orientation, and disability; and expand federal jurisdiction to cover the most violent of these crimes.

Lawmakers passed a hate crimes bill in the Senate in the 106th Congress as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Act (DoD). The concurrent House bill did not have the hate crimes prevention language in its version of the DoD bill. The House leadership ultimately succeeded in preventing the hate crimes language from being inserted in the final DoD legislation.

For nearly 10 years, People For the American Way Foundation has documented anti-gay bigotry and discrimination in its annual Hostile Climate report. The 2000 edition of Hostile Climate documents 374 anti-gay incidents across the country, including legal and legislative attacks on gay families, hate speech, prejudice and censorship in schools, and the Religious Right’s hostility toward the gay community.

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