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House Passes Defense Authorization Conference Report, Including Hate Crimes Provision

(WASHINGTON D.C.)– The U.S. House of Representatives passed the conference report on Wednesday for the FY 2010 Defense Authorization bill by a vote of 281 to 146, bringing critical hate crimes protections closer to becoming law than ever before. The conference report now proceeds to the Senate for its final vote in Congress. In July, the Senate voted to attach the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act to the Defense Authorization measure and is expected to approve the conference report as early as next week. President Obama has repeatedly pledged to sign the bill when it reaches his desk.

“We are closer than ever before to protecting Americans from hate violence thanks to this action by the House,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “The day is within sight when lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will benefit from updating our nation’s hate crimes laws and giving local law enforcement the tools they need to combat hate violence.”

The Defense Authorization conference report removed a provision adopted in the Senate which would make the death penalty available for hate crimes. In addition, the hate crimes provision has been renamed “The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” honoring the memory of another victim of hate violence – in the same year as Matthew Shepard – an African-American man who was dragged to death in Jasper, Texas.

“We are so grateful for the leadership of our many allies in Congress, and particularly of Senators Leahy, Levin, Collins and Reid and Representatives Conyers, Kirk, Baldwin and the Speaker in ensuring that the hate crimes provision remained part of this authorization bill”, said Solmonese.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention 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 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.

This legislation was first introduced in the 105th Congress. Since that time, the House and Senate have each voted five times in favor of its passage.