What: All Issues : Human Rights & Civil Liberties : Gay Rights : Expanding federal hate-crimes law to include the use or threat of force against individuals because of their gender, sexual orientation or disability (H.R. 1592)/On passage
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Expanding federal hate-crimes law to include the use or threat of force against individuals because of their gender, sexual orientation or disability (H.R. 1592)/On passage
house Roll Call 299     May 03, 2007
Y = Conservative
N = Progressive
Winning Side:
Progressive

This was the final vote on a bill to expand the reach of federal hate-crimes legislation to include crimes committed against an individual because of his or her gender, sexual orientation or disability.

Current federal hate-crimes law covers the use or threat of force against a person based on race, color, religion or national origin that interferes with the victim's ability to engage in six specific "federally protected" activities. This bill would remove from the definition interference with the victim's ability to engage in federally protected activities, effectively allowing federal law enforcement broader authority to prosecute hate crimes. The legislation would also authorize $5 million annually for grants for local law enforcement officials to help them investigate and prosecute hate crimes and stiffen the penalties for those convicted of such crimes.

Republicans philosophically opposed the legislation because they believe a crime is a crime and that the bill would essentially turn the federal government into the "thought police." They said the legislation would unfairly create a special category of crimes, unjustly making one crime more worthy of punishment than another simply by the somewhat murky notion of the personal beliefs of the perpetrator. Republicans don't think that crimes against homosexuals or other "special classes" of people should be treated differently than a crime committed against anyone else.

Democrats and supporters of the legislation maintained that 15,000 hate crimes based on sexual orientation were reported between 1991 and 2005, and that it was high time for the federal government to include those hate crimes in federal law side-by-side with crimes committed against people because of their race or national origin. They painted the issue as a simple one of civil rights.

"Hate crimes are disturbingly prevalent and pose a significant threat to the full participation of all Americans in our democratic society," said House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.), the bill's sponsor.

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said the legislation "will have a chilling effect on religious freedom and First Amendment rights." Republicans maintained that the bill would prompt religious leaders to be more reluctant to speak out against homosexuality out of fear that their words would later be linked to a crime for which they may be held responsible.

The legislation passed easily on a mostly party-line vote. Twenty-five Republicans joined all but 14 Democrats present in voting for the measure. Thus, on a vote of 237 to 180, the House approved legislation that would expand the definition of hate crimes to include crimes perpetrated based on gender, sexual orientation or disability. The bill then moved to the Senate.

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