Landmark hate crimes legislation passes House

John Byrne

In an unexpected 223-199 vote, the House of Representatives passed sweeping hate crimes legislation Wednesday, including protections for minorities and gays who are the subject of hate crimes.

The bill, authored by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), was a rider on another bill -- the Child Safety Act. Thirty moderate Republicans joined the Democratic caucus in supporting the amendment; the bill now goes to the Senate, where its fate is uncertain.

Conyers was elated about the measure's passage.

"The passage of this legislation is an historic event that has its basis in the anti-lynching efforts of the 1930's," the Michigan Democrat told RAW STORY. "This has truly been a bipartisan effort that was year in the making."

Conyers said it was the first criminal law-based civil rights legislation to pass in decades.

In 2003, the most recent data available, law enforcement agencies identified 9,100 victims arising from 8,715 separate criminal bias-based offenses. Reporting by law enforcement is voluntary and it is widely believed that hate crimes are seriously under-reported.

Current law limits federal jurisdiction over hate crimes to incidents against protected classes that occur only during the exercise of federally protected activities, such as voting. Such statutes do not permit federal involvement in a range of cases where crimes are motivated by bias against the victim's perceived sexual orientation, gender, disability or gender identity.

The Human Rights Campaign, the largest gay lobby, called the vote a "historic step." Also praising the move were the Log Cabin Republicans, a more conservative gay rights lobby.

"Today the United States House has courageously stood up for basic fairness for LGBT Americans," Chris Barron, Log Cabin Republicans political director, told PlanetOut. "This is a tremendous day for our entire LGBT community."

Four states have no hate crime laws on the books, and another 21 states have weaker versions of the laws than the one passed today.

Conyers told RAW STORY the fact that the bill is part of a broader child safety act will make it easier to pass in the Senate.