October 11, 2009

Hate Crimes Bill Closer to Becoming Law--Soon!

From the New York Times:

The House voted Thursday to expand the definition of violent federal hate crimes to those committed because of a victim’s sexual orientation, a step that would extend new protection to lesbian, gay and transgender people.

Democrats hailed the vote of 281 to 146, which brought the measure to the brink of becoming law, as the culmination of a long push to curb violent expressions of bias like the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student.

“Left unchecked, crimes of this kind threaten to ruin the very fabric of America,” said Representative Susan A. Davis, Democrat of California, a leading supporter of the legislation.

Under current federal law, hate crimes that fall under federal jurisdiction are defined as those motivated by the victim’s race, color, religion or national origin.

The new measure would broaden the definition to include those committed because of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It was approved by the House right before a weekend when gay rights will be a focus in Washington, with a march to the Capitol and a speech by President Obama to the Human Rights Campaign.

The hate crimes legislation would give the federal government authority to prosecute violent crimes of antigay bias when local authorities failed to act. It would also allocate $5 million a year to the Justice Department to provide assistance to local communities in investigating hate crimes, a process that can sometimes strain police resources. And it would allow the department to assist in the inquiry and local prosecution if requested.

“The problem of crimes motivated by bias,” the measure says, “is sufficiently serious, widespread and interstate in nature as to warrant federal assistance to states, local jurisdictions and Indian tribes.”

Click here to read more of the Times' story.

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