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Senate passes Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act
President has already issued veto threat

by David Stout . Q-Notes staff

‘This victory is all the more sweet given
the right-wing’s hysterical, defamatory and lying campaign against it,’ said NGLTF head Matt Foreman.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Sept. 27, the U.S. Senate passed the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007 (S. 1105) by a bipartisan 60-39 cloture vote, which ended debate and sent the bill to the floor where it was approved by a voice vote.

The amendment to the Department of Defense reauthorization bill was introduced by Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Gordon Smith (R-OR). Smith was one of nine GOP senators who voted to move the bill forward.

The Matthew Shepard Act would make it easier for federal and local authorities to prosecute hate crimes. It would remove the requirement that victims be engaged in a federally-protected activity such as voting when the crime is committed.

The bill would also expand the definition of hate crimes to include those motivated by the sexual orientation, gender identity, gender or disability of the victim. In addition, it would allow federal authorities to assist in local prosecutions to ensure that justice is served.

“Laws ultimately reflect a nation’s values and today’s vote says that America rejects all forms of hate violence, including bias-motivated crimes against LGBT people,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “This victory is all the more sweet given the right-wing’s hysterical, defamatory and lying campaign against it.”

On May 3 the U.S. House of Representatives passed a companion bill to the Matthew Shepard Act, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592), with a strong bipartisan margin of 237-180.

Following the Senate vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “I am committed to getting this legislation to the president’s desk as soon as possible and I look forward to working with the Senate to find the best way to achieve this goal.”

If the chambers are able to negotiate a final version of the bill, it will still face its biggest hurdle: a threatened presidential veto.

“We are deeply disappointed by President Bush’s past statements that he would veto hate crimes legislation,” said Foreman. “The president has also threatened to veto the larger Department of Defense reauthorization bill to which this measure is attached. We call upon the president to work with — rather than oppose — the Congress, the overwhelming majority of the public and national and local law enforcement leaders in enacting this important legislation.”
In the past President Bush has called hate crimes expansion “unnecessary.” But, according to FBI figures, 25 Americans are victims of hate crimes each day, with one in six of these instances motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation.

The Matthew Shepherd Act was supported by over 230 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations. A Gallup Poll conducted in May found a strong 68 percent of Americans in favor of expanding existing federal hate crimes protections to include sexual orientation, gender and gender identity. Only 27 percent were opposed.

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