On May 3, 2007, the House passed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, H.R. 1592. This bill focuses on providing new resources to help state and local law enforcement agencies prevent and prosecute hate crimes. It also closes gaps in current federal hate crimes law.
There has been a federal hate crimes law since 1968 because Americans recognize that bias-motivated crimes of violence harm all of society, in addition to the crime victim. Americans understand that hate crimes have no place in America. All Americans have a right to feel safe in their community. We all remember the brutal murders of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and James Byrd in Texas because we know that these bias-motivated murders impacted us all. Yet, hate crimes continue to be widespread and persistent: More than 113,000 hate crimes have been documented by the FBI since 1991. In 2005 alone, there were 7,163 reported hate crimes.
The hate crimes bill has always been a bipartisan effort in both the House and Senate. In the Senate, Sen. Gordon Smith (R-OR) and Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) have been cosponsoring the hate crimes bill together ever since 1999. In the House, there has also been a bipartisan effort. In every Congress since 1999, Rep. Conyers has introduced a similar hate crimes bill - always with Republican cosponsors. This Congress, Rep. Conyers introduced H.R. 1592 on March 20, 2007 - and his Republican cosponsors include Reps. Mark Steven Kirk (R-IL), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Mary Bono (R-CA).
The hate crimes provisions have passed the Congress several times over the last few years. Most recently, on September 14, 2005, the House passed identical hate crimes prevention provisions as a Conyers amendment to a child protection bill - by a vote of 223-199 (Dem: 192-5; Rep: 30-194). In addition, the House passed similar hate crimes provisions on September 28, 2004, by a vote of 213-186; and on September 13, 2000, by a vote of 232-192. Unfortunately, in all three instances, these provisions were stripped out in conference.
This bill is focused on enhancing the resources of state and local law enforcement to prevent and prosecute hate crimes. All too often, state and local law enforcement alone are unable to meet the challenge of hate crime prevention and prosecution. Underfunded and understaffed, state and local law enforcement desperately require federal assistance to address this challenge. That is why this bill authorizes the Department of Justice to provide state and local law enforcement agencies technical, forensic, prosecutorial and other forms of assistance in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. It also authorizes the Department of Justice to provide grants to state and local law enforcement agencies that are investigating hate crimes.
The bill also closes gaps in existing federal law. The bill closes gaps in federal law to help combat hate crimes committed against persons because of their race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
The bill respects First Amendment rights of free speech and religious expression. The bill only applies to bias-motivated crimes of violence and does not impinge freedom of speech or religious expression in any way.
The hate crimes bill is supported by a long list of groups, including law enforcement groups, religious groups, civil rights groups, disability groups, and numerous other organizations. The hate crimes bill is supported by 31 state Attorneys General and more than 230 national organizations, including the International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Sheriffs' Association, Police Executive Research Forum, Police Foundation, National District Attorneys Association, NAACP, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, Anti-Defamation League, Human Rights Campaign, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, American Association of People with Disabilities, People for the American Way, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ - Justice and Witness Ministries, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Conference, U.S. Conference of Mayors, and American Association of University Women.