The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed in the US House yesterday on a 249 to 175 bipartisan vote. The bill expands federal hate crime laws to include crimes where the victims were targeted on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender, and disability. It also would eliminate a requirement that the victim was engaged in one of several “federally protected activities” at the time of the crime in order to be protected by these laws. Under current federal hate crime laws, perpetrators can be prosecuted for violence motivated by race, color, religion, and national origin only if the crime involves a federal activity, such as voting or traveling across state lines.
President Obama released a statement on the bill prior to yesterday’s vote. He said “I urge members on both sides of the aisle to act on this important civil rights issue by passing this legislation to protect all of our citizens from violent acts of intolerance – legislation that will enhance civil rights protections, while also protecting our freedom of speech and association. I also urge the Senate to work with my Administration to finalize this bill and to take swift action.”
The bill was also reintroduced in the US Senate this week by a bi-partisan coalition. In the Senate, the bill is known as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Previous versions of the bill faced various legislative roadblocks under the Bush administration: similar bills did not make it out of committee in several Congresses between 2002, when the legislation was first introduced, and 2007, when the bill finally passed the House, but was never voted on in the Senate. President Bush had indicated that he would veto the bill if it was passed by Congress.