WASHINGTON – Today, House-Senate conferees confirmed that the Matthew Shepard Act, which had passed the Senate as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill, would be removed from the final version of the bill. This announcement was made after House Leadership’s whipping the vote count on the conference report concluded there were not enough votes for passage of the bill if it included the hate crimes provision.
“Today’s decision is deeply disappointing, especially given the historic passage of hate crimes legislation through both Houses of Congress this year. After more than ten years and several successful bipartisan votes, it is heartbreaking to fall short this close to the finish line,” said Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign. “However, we are not giving up on efforts to find another legislative vehicle, in the second half of this Congress, to move the Matthew Shepard Act.”
The Human Rights Campaign has been a chief advocate of hate crimes legislation for over a decade. On November 14th, HRC sent an e-mail to all Capitol Hill offices urging the retention of hate crimes legislation in the Department of Defense Authorization conference report. Additionally, HRC organized and signed onto a coalition letter sent to the Chairman and Ranking Members of the Armed Services Committees urging them to retain the Hate Crimes amendment as part of the conference report. Timed to correspond with Members returning from the Thanksgiving recess, on November 28th, HRC launched a nationwide action alert to all of its members urging immediate grassroots action to Members of Congress. The alert can be viewed on HRC’s BackStory blog at: http://www.hrcbackstory.org/2007/11/take-action-now.html
The House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (H.R. 1592) in May with a strong bipartisan vote of 237-180. The Senate approved the nearly identical Matthew Shepard Act (S. 1105) as an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization bill on a voice vote after a 60-39 cloture vote.
Inclusion of the hate crimes provision in the final version of the bill fell victim in the House to challenges from opponents of hate crimes as well as unrelated concerns regarding Iraq-related provisions of the bill. The hate crimes veto threat issued by the White House and organized opposition by House Republican Leadership cost significant numbers of votes on the right. Iraq-related provisions that many progressive Democrats opposed cost votes on the left. Moderate Democrats, many of whom voted for the hate crimes bill in May, did not want to test the President’s veto threat and risk a delay in increased pay for military personnel. All of these factors resulted in insufficient votes to secure passage of the bill with the hate crimes provision.
“The exhaustive efforts of Majority Leader Reid, Senator Kennedy, Senator Smith, Senator Levin, Representative Conyers, Representative Kirk and other allies of equality on Capitol Hill, to keep the Matthew Shepard Act as part of this bill should not go unnoticed. We thank them for their efforts and know that they will continue to work with us to find a way to get this legislation to the President’s desk,” continued Solmonese.
The Matthew Shepard Act gives the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias motivated violence by providing the Department with jurisdiction over crimes of 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.
The legislation also 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. The Act 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.