The US House of Representatives voted yesterday 237-180 to pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expands hate crime laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity and strengthens the ability of law enforcement at all levels to investigate and prosecute hate crimes. A similar version of the bill, named after Matthew Shepard who was murdered in 1998 because he was gay, is expected to pass soon in the Senate, but President Bush has already indicated that he would veto the bill.
Under current federal hate crime laws, perpetrators can be prosecuted for violence motivated by race, color, religion, and national origin if the crime involves a federal activity, such as voting or traveling across state lines, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The new legislation would add gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability to the protected classes. Additionally, the bill would enable federal authorities to investigate hate crimes if local investigators lack the resources or are unwilling to pursue the cases.
Four hours prior to the House passage of the bill, the White House issued a statement saying that, if the bill were to be presented to the President, “his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill” because it “is unnecessary and constitutionally questionable.”
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) said yesterday, “Some people ask: Why is this legislation even necessary? Because brutal hate crimes motivated by race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and identity, or disability not only injure individual victims, but also terrorize entire segments of our population and tear at our nation’s social fabric,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
National Organization for Women President Kim Gandy issued a statement following the House’s vote, saying that the feminist movement has long fought for “an inclusive law that would protect all of those who were excluded from previous hate crime laws.” Said Gandy of Bush’s veto threat, “How dare George Bush veto a bill that does nothing more than protect vulnerable people from violence. Hate is not a family value.”