Clinton Administration Misses Historic Opportunity to Pass Hate Crime Bill, Says HRC
WASHINGTON&endash;The Republican leadership Nov. 17, 1999 killed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 1999 (HCPA), eliminating any chance that federal hate crime legislation will be enacted this year. The GOP's enthusiastic opposition&endash;particularly from the Senate leadership&endash;shows a blatant disregard for hate crime victims and their families and ignores the fact that hate crimes are on the rise, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
"The GOP Senate leadership's antipathy towards gay and lesbian Americans apparently runs so deep that they were able to callously turn their back on hate crime victims and their families, even as statistics show that hate crimes are on the rise," said HRC Executive Director Elizabeth Birch. "These unconscionable efforts to derail hate crime legislation will be remembered as a shameful chapter in this nation's history."
Today's action follows weeks of personal appeals by hate crime victims and their families. Last week, the parents of Wyoming hate crime victim Matthew Shepard&endash;Dennis and Judy&endash;met with key White House officials. In the meeting, those officials promised to throw the full weight of the administration behind passage of the HCPA. But in the crucial moments of negotiations, the White House let hate crime legislation wither.
"We are gravely disappointed that the Clinton administration did not follow-through and fulfill their pledge to make hate crimes legislation a top priority," said Birch. "It is very clear that if we were to have succeeded, the White House needed to make this a non-negotiable issue. The actions of the administration fell woefully short of their rhetoric."
The Shepards, joined by HRC staff, also met with House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., among others.
"Speaker Hastert and Chairman Hyde were clearly moved by the Shepards, but unfortunately it did not translate into any concrete steps on their part," Birch said.
In July, the Senate passed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act for the first time as part of the Commerce, State, Justice appropriations bill. The House version of the bill did not include HCPA. The GOP leadership omitted HCPA in conference, where a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the Commerce, State, Justice bill was crafted. President Clinton vetoed the bill, in-part because it did not include the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Following the veto, a coalition of organizations rallied to revive the bill. HRC organized a press conference on Capitol Hill that featured Dennis and Judy Shepard and Wyoming law enforcement officials. Sens. Jim Jeffords, R-Vt., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore., spoke at the event, as well as Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla.
"Senator Edward Kennedy has led the way on this effort and has worked tirelessly to see that hate crime victims and their families will be protected and treated equally," said Birch. "In addition we applaud the dedication of so many other outstanding leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., and Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla."
Additionally, HRC launched a paid advertising campaign to support HCPA that aired in Washington on Sunday public affairs shows.
The GOP's thwarting of this legislation comes just as the FBI released new statistics showing a rise in hate crimes against gay and lesbian Americans. According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports for 1998&emdash;the latest year for available statistics&emdash;hate crimes based on sexual orientation increased 14.3 percent from 1997 to 1998. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation have nearly tripled since the FBI began collecting statistics in 1991, comprising 16 percent of all hate crimes for 1998 at 1,260. This is particularly disturbing since the number of reporting agencies for 1998 decreased from 11,211 to 10, 461, with two fewer states reporting, as well. Hate crimes based on sexual orientation continue to make up the third highest category of those reported to the FBI after race and religion.
The defeat of HCPA ignores overwhelming public support for hate crime legislation. A February 1999 Gallup poll showed that 70 percent of Americans are in favor of tougher hate crime laws.
Since 1998&emdash;when an African American, James Byrd Jr., was tied to the back of a truck and dragged to death by white supremacists in Jasper, Texas&emdash;several high-profile hate crimes have shocked our country.
The HCPA would extend current federal hate crimes protection&endash;which covers race, religion, color and national origin&emdash;to gender, sexual orientation and disability. HCPA would serve as a tool to help law enforcement by allowing federal assistance, when necessary, in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. HCPA has broad support from notable law enforcement agencies and state and local leaders including 22 state attorneys general, the Police Foundation and the National Sheriff's Association.