Friday
March 23, 2007
SGN.org
Volume 35
Issue 12
 
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Washington congressional delegation favors hate crimes bill
Washington congressional delegation favors hate crimes bill
Five Democrats co-sponsor legislation

by Robert Raketty - SGN Staff Writer

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a bill which would provide local police and sheriff's departments with federal resources to combat bias-motivated crimes, was introduced on Wednesday in the U.S. House of Representatives. A poll by the Seattle Gay News of Washington's congressional delegation shows the measure has strong support among Democrats.

The legislation would give the Justice Department the power to investigate and prosecute bias-motivated violence because of a person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. It also allows the Justice Department to aid state and local jurisdictions either by lending assistance or by taking the lead in investigations and prosecutions of violent crimes motivated by bias. Grants would also become available to state and local communities to combat bias-motivated crimes.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation's statistics show that more than 100,000 hate crime offenses have been reported to the FBI since 1991. Violent crimes based on sexual orientation constituted 14.2 percent of all hate crimes in 2005. However, these numbers, according to experts, are likely much higher because reporting of bias-motivated crimes is based on a voluntary system.

"Each year, thousands of Americans are violently attacked just because they are black, female, Christian or Gay. These crimes not only harm individuals, but they terrorize entire communities," said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. "It's the responsibility of our government to protect all Americans. After more than a decade of delay, it's time for Congress to provide local police and sheriffs' departments with the tools and resources they need to put away society's most vicious criminals."

Judy Shepard, whose son was brutally beaten and left tied to a fence in the Wyoming countryside before he later died from his injuries, issued a written statement in support of the legislation.

"The investigation of Matthew's murder and the trial of his killers cost Albany County in Wyoming more than $150,000," she noted. "This unplanned financial burden forced the Sheriff's Department to furlough five of its employees. If the LLEHCPA had been the law of the land in 1998, this reduction in vital staff could have been averted, while still ensuring that justice was served for my son.

"Since Matthew was killed in 1998 for being Gay, almost 10,000 violent acts of hate against individuals based on their sexual orientation have been reported to the authorities. Whether it is for Matthew or for the victims of the thousands of other violent hate crimes that have taken place over the years, I urge the [Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender community and its allies to make the passage of this bill a top priority."

The measure was introduced by Reps. John Conyers, D-MI, and Mark Kirk, R-IL, and is cosponsored by more than 100 members of Congress. Among them are Representatives Brian Baird (D-3rd), Jay Inslee (D-1st), Rick Larsen (D-2nd), Jim McDermott (D-8th), and Adam Smith (D-9th) from Washington State.

"Congressman Inslee is an original cosponsor of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act," said Inslee spokesperson Christine Hanson. "He also was a co-sponsor of the bill in the last session of Congress."

Larson's spokesperson, Amanda Mahnke, also touted the congressman's record on the legislation. "Congressman Larsen has co-sponsored this bill every Congress since he's been elected, and he will do so again this Congress," she said.

An aide to Rep. Norm Dicks said the congressman was "generally supportive." A spokesperson for Dicks, however, did not return a call from the SGN by press time.

Congressman McDermott told the SGN on Thursday that he strongly supported the bill. "

"Innocent people across America are victimized every week because of the color of their skin, their religion, gender, or because they are Gay," said McDermott. "I strongly believe that the federal government has a responsibility to its citizens to vigorously fight hate crimes, and we can do that by providing federal funds to local law enforcement agencies.

"That's why I am a co-sponsor of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which was introduced on March 21, 2007, in the House of Representatives. We know that local law enforcement agencies don't have the staff or resources to combat hate crimes, and I believe we must provide these sources and make a commitment to everyone in the Gay community that we will do all that we can to ensure they live without fear."

McDermott said he also had plans to introduce legislation this session that would reduce the tax burden on workplace benefits, which are particularly difficult on same-sex couples because they cannot legally wed.

"As a strong supporter of the rights of every Gay, Bisexual, Lesbian, and Transgender American, I know there is more we can and should be doing," he said. "That's why I'm especially proud to tell you that, very soon, I'm going to introduce federal legislation to correct an injustice that federal taxes impose in the workplace concerning domestic partner -- health care -- benefits provided by America's largest employers. I look forward to making that announcement -- and seeking your strong support -- in the very near future."

Congressman Dave Reichert (R-8th) supports the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, according to spokesperson Kimberly Cadena.

"Congressman Reichert is a supporter of the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act. He's voted in favor of similar legislation in the previous Congress as well," she said.

Calls to the offices of Republican Representatives Doc Hastings (R-4th) and Cathy McMorris (R-5th) went unanswered by press time.

The Senate is expected to introduce a bipartisan companion bill next month.
Jay Inslee (top); Jim McDermott; Brian Bird;

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