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U.S. Senate Approves Hate Crimes Bill

The U.S. Senate approved the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA), which would make anti-gay assaults subject to federal intervention for the first time, as part of a larger spending bill. The measure now faces a House-Senate conference committee, since the House's version of the bill doesn't include any such provision. Some House Republicans are determined to see the HCPA removed, and the Clinton Administration may see the provision as a bargaining chip. The administration has already warned activists it may have to veto the bill for unrelated reasons.

Also, another hate crimes provision that doesn't protect on the basis of sexual orientation was added to another appropriations by by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and the Human Rights Campaign believes the two provisions are mutually exclusive. So it could be months before HCPA's final fate is known.

HCPA has already gone farther than ever before -- it died last year -- and in fact has gone farther than any explicitly gay-friendly measure since the enactment of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act of 1990, the first federal law to use the term "sexual orientation." The bill has 40 Senate co-sponsors, including six Republicans, and 180 House co-sponsors. The bill faces a House Judiciary Committee hearing scheduled for August 4.

HCPA would add gender, disability and sexual orientation to protected classes under the existing hate crimes law. The current law only applies to crimes on federal property, but HCPA would affect any incident relating to interstate commerce, including crimes using guns made in another state and crimes committed in vehicles. HCPA is limited to crimes resulting in death or bodily harm, and federal interventions must be certified personally by the U.S. Attorney General. It includes funds for expanded federal investigation and prosecution, and would serve as a backup in situations where state or local authorities were unable or unwilling to act.

Sen. Hatch referred to the death of Matthew Shepard in introducing his competing hate crimes measure, despite the fact that his proposal wouldn't allow the federal government to respond to anti-gay bias crimes. Hatch also said hate crimes "incite community unrest, and ultimately they are downright un-American."

-- (Source: PlanetOut)

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