Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Clears Key Senate Hurdle
HRC President Joe Solmonese: “Once again, we have demonstrated that more than 60 Senators support the Matthew Shepard Act”
WASHINGTON – The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, praised the U.S. Senate today for successfully invoking a motion for cloture to proceed to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 909) Amendment, which would provide local police and sheriff’s departments with federal resources to combat hate violence. The cloture motion to consider the Amendment to the FY 2010 Department of Defense Authorization bill was adopted on a vote of 63 to 28.
Clearing the 60 vote threshold stops any Republican filibuster and allows the Matthew Shepard Act Amendment to proceed to final passage, which is expected on Monday. Cloture is a procedural tool to allow debate, and eventually passage, to occur. It requires 60 votes instead of a simple majority.
“Once again, we have demonstrated that more than 60 Senators support the Matthew Shepard Act, legislation that will provide police and sheriffs’ departments with the tools and resources they need to ensure that entire communities are not terrorized by hate violence,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Today’s key vote move this legislation one step closer to the President’s desk. With the support of an overwhelming majority of the American people, including more than 300 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organizations, it is past time we take this important step toward combating hate in our country.”
The legislation was introduced on April 28 in the U.S. Senate with bipartisan support by Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA), among others. On June 25, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Matthew Shepard Act (S. 909) that included an appearance by Attorney General Eric Holder, the first time an Attorney General has testified in favor of this legislation, and written testimony from Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.
Before today’s vote, there have been nine previous, successful votes on federal hate crimes legislation in the House and Senate. This past April, a bipartisan companion bill, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 249-175.
The Matthew Shepard Act gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence where the perpetrator has selected the victim because of the person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It provides the Justice Department with the authority to aid state and local jurisdictions either by lending assistance or, where local authorities are unwilling or unable, by taking the lead in investigations and prosecutions of violent crime resulting in death or serious bodily injury that were motivated by bias. It also makes grants available to state and local communities to combat violent crimes committed by juveniles, train law enforcement officers, or to assist in state and local investigations and prosecutions of bias-motivated crimes.
Hate crimes are underreported for a variety of reasons, including that victims often live in communities where coming out to report the crime would itself be unsafe. However, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s own statistics, based on voluntary reporting, show that since 1991 over 100,000 hate crime offenses have been reported to the FBI, with 7,624 reported in 2007, the FBI’s most recent reporting period. Violent crimes based on sexual orientation constituted 16.6 percent of all hate crimes in 2007, with 1,265 reported for the year. In addition, although anti-transgender hate crimes are not captured in the federal statistics, we know that transgender Americans too often live in fear of violence.
Working in coalition with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the Human Rights Campaign continues to mobilize its members and educate the public. Online users have the opportunity to contact their member of Congress, watch video testimonials on hate crimes and learn the truth about the legislation at www.FightHateNow.org.
The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.