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Amendments Threaten Passage of Hate Crimes Act

The US Senate passed several controversial amendments to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act yesterday. Three amendments introduced by Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) were backed by many Republicans who oppose the expansion of hate crime protections, according to The Hill. The most contentious amendment, SA 1615, authorizes use of the death penalty in some fatal hate crimes.

The second and third amendments Sessions proposed would make attacks on US military service members and their families a federal offense and require that “neutral and objective criteria” be established for the classification of hate crime offenses, respectively. A fourth amendment introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) was also passed, which would mitigate the death penalty amendment by placing restrictions on its use.

In a statement responding to the legislation, the Human Rights Campaign opposed death penalty amendment: “HRC strongly opposed this unwelcome amendment and hopes to address it as the Act continues through the legislative process. The amendment was offered by and supported by Senators who oppose the Matthew Shepard Act in an effort to derail the Act.”

The Matthew Shepard Act was added to the Senate version of the Department of Defense Authorization bill last week, reported the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. A version of the act was passed by the House on April 29. The act expands federal hate crime laws to include crimes where the victims were targeted on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender and disability.

Sources:

The Hill 7/20/09; Human Rights Campaign Press Release 7/20/09; Leadership Conference on Civil Rights 7/20/09; Feminist Daily Newswire 4/30/09

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