Senate Approves Hate Crimes Act
'Keep up the heat,' NGLTF's Kerry Lobel urges community
Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications
For the first time ever, the U.S. Senate has approved the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would expand the existing hate crimes statute to cover disability status, gender and sexual orientation and would make it easier for federal authorities to prosecute crimes of violence.
Without discussion or debate, Senators approved the measure Thursday evening as an amendment to S. 1217, the Commerce, Justice, State appropriations bill. Because the House version of the budget bill does not include the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the ultimate fate of the measure in this Congress rests on the conference committee action between the House and the Senate.
"This is the first concrete action taken by either chamber since America buried Matthew Shepard, James Byrd Jr., Billy Jack Gaither, and many transgendered people whose names and faces do not make the newspapers," said Kerry Lobel, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "It is a good first step. But we have a long way to go and we must now turn to the House and tell our representatives how critically important this legislation is. In short, we must keep up the heat."
The amendment approved by the Senate late Thursday will expand federal authority to prosecute hate crimes. Currently, federal officials can only intervene if a victim is engaged in a federally protected act such as attempting to vote, go to school or serve on a jury. Federal officials cannot intervene at all in hate crimes based on disability, sexual orientation or gender.
The Senate also passed a watered-down amendment by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that does not cover sexual orientation, disability or gender and would only expand federal jurisdiction to hate crimes committed after the crossing of state lines. "The Hatch amendment fails to recognize that no one should be a target for bias-motivated violence," Lobel said. "Hate crimes legislation that doesn't cover sexual orientation, disability and gender is a farce."
Earlier this month, Missouri became the 22nd state (plus the District of Columbia) to enact hate crimes legislation that covers sexual orientation. NGLTF tracks GLBT-related legislation in all 50 states. For more information, please consult the 1999 NGLTF Legislative Updates at http://www.ngltf.org/legupdate99.
The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movementís premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.
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