House votes on hate crimes bill

(Washington) The US House is scheduled to vote today on legislation to add sexual orientation  and gender identity to the list of categories covered under federal hate crime law.

A parallel bill was introduced in the Senate on Tuesday.

Gay rights groups have been fighting to have the legislation passed for over a decade.

Because there is no federal law mandating states and municipalities to report hate crimes, they are often under-reported.  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, while not captured in the federal statistics, transgender Americans too often live in fear of violence.

The legislation 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 ability 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.

President Obama has said that if the bill is passed he would sign it.

The legislation  passed the House in 2007, but President Bush threatened to veto it if it passed in the Senate.

In an effort to get around a veto the Senate version was tied to the 2008 defense authorization bill.  It passed but then went to conference where it was stripped out.

A wide coalition of national organizations has called for the passage of the legislation.  Some of those organizations supporting this legislation include the National Sheriffs Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, 26 state Attorneys General  and the National District Attorneys Association.

“After more than a decade of delay and tens of thousands of additional victims, now is the time for this critical piece of legislation to be signed into law,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

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