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Kennedy, Leahy Reintroduce Hate Crimes Bill

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Location: Washington, DC


KENNEDY, LEAHY REINTRODUCE HATE CRIMES BILL

Senators Edward M. Kennedy and Patrick Leahy today reintroduced the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. The bill, named for a young man fatally beaten in 1998 because of his sexual orientation, expands current federal law, which applies to crimes based on race, color, national origin, or religion, to include crimes based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It also provides grants to improve the education and training of local officials to identify, investigate, prosecute, and prevent hate crimes, and expands the type of statistics currently collected by the FBI to better monitor hate crimes.

The House version of this legislation (H.R. 1913) was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday and is expected to come to a vote by the full House this week.

Senator Kennedy said, "This bill is long overdue. Hate crimes are especially poisonous. They are acts of domestic terrorism that target whole communities, not just individuals. This bill will bring greater protection to our citizens and much-needed resources for state and local law enforcement to fight these vicious crimes. Now is the time to stand up against hate-motivated violence and recognize the shameful damage it is doing to our nation. We must not delay passage of this bill any longer."

Senator Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said, "I am pleased to join Senator Kennedy and more than 30 Senators from both sides of the aisle to introduce the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act. This is a bipartisan bill designed to combat crimes that have long terrorized communities and remain a serious problem in this country. It is a matter of simple justice, and it is past time for Congress to enact this bill and strengthen the government's role in preventing and punishing crimes motivated by hate."

A summary of the legislation is below.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act will strengthen the ability of federal, state, local, and tribal governments to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability. It will strengthen state, local, and tribal efforts by enabling the Justice Department to assist local authorities in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes by authorizing grants to meet the extraordinary expenses often involved in investigating and prosecuting these cases. It also authorizes grants to prevent and deter hate crimes committed by juveniles.

Hate Crimes Covered. Existing hate crimes law covers race, color, national origin, or religion, but only where the victim is engaging in one of the following federally protected activities: (1) attending or enrolling in a public school or public college; (2) participating in a benefit, service, privilege, program, facility or activity administered by a state or local government; (3) applying for or working in private or state employment; (4) serving as a juror in a state court; (5) using a facility of interstate commerce or a common carrier; or (6) enjoying public accommodations or places of exhibition or entertainment. The bill eliminates the outdated "federally protected activities" requirement and expands the federal government's ability to prosecute crimes targeting victims because of their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.

Federal Assistance and Training Grants. The bill authorizes the Attorney General to provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial and other assistance to state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials for hate crime investigations and prosecutions. In addition, the Justice Department is authorized to increase personnel to better prevent and respond to allegations of hate crimes. The bill also authorizes $5 million for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 for Justice Department grants of up to $100,000 to state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials who have incurred extraordinary expenses associated with investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. Finally, the bill authorizes grants by the Office of Justice Programs to state, local, and tribal programs to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles, including programs to train local law enforcement officers in identifying, investigating, prosecuting, and preventing hate crimes.

Certification Requirement. The bill authorizes the federal government to step in when needed, but only after the Justice Department meets the certification process outlined in the bill. The Justice Department must certify that the state in which the hate crime occurred either does not have jurisdiction; has asked the federal government to assume jurisdiction; a state prosecution has failed to vindicate the federal interest against hate-motivated violence; or a federal prosecution is in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice. In other words, rather than take over cases that would normally be pursued at the state or local level, the bill will provide a federal backstop for state and local law enforcement to deal with hate crimes that otherwise might not be effectively investigated and prosecuted, or for which states request assistance.

Collection of Statistics. Currently, the FBI collects statistics on hate crimes based on race, color, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation. This bill increases the federal government's ability to monitor hate crimes by including statistics on gender and gender identity-based hate crimes, as well as hate crimes committed by juveniles.


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