September 27, 2007

SUPPORT FOR THE MATTHEW SHEPARD ACT, S. 1105

"Mr. President I take the floor to speak about an amendment offered by Senator Kennedy that will be voted on later. I spoke last week about hate crimes in America, and I talked about what is happening in our own communities. I spoke about an episode in College Park, MD, and we are all familiar with what happened in Jena, LA. The FBI has indicated that the number of hate crimes reported is unacceptably high in all communities in America today.

"Today, we are going to have an opportunity to do something about that. We are going to have an opportunity to support S. 1105, the Matthew Shepard Act. I am proud to be a cosponsor of that bill, and I thank the senior Senator from Massachusetts, Mr. Kennedy , for bringing forward this issue. We will have a chance on this very important bill to speak about the moral commitment of our own country and what we stand for as a nation. This is an issue which we need to deal with because it speaks to what type of people we are in this country, that we will not tolerate hate crime activities.

"This legislation gives the Department of Justice jurisdiction over violent crimes in which a perpetrator picks the victim on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

"Now, why do we give the Department of Justice jurisdiction in these areas? Well, we all know, first, that it will make it clear this is a national priority. Secondly, the Department of Justice is in a far better position, in many cases, than local law enforcement working by itself, to successfully complete an investigation.

"This legislation gives additional tools to local law enforcement so they can get their job done. It gives them training dollars. It gives them other resources and assistance so that, in many cases, they can get the type of information necessary to pursue these cases successfully.

"It is what is needed in partnership with local government. But there are some States that are unable or unwilling to move forward with hate crime activities. Only 31 States and the District of Columbia include sexual orientation or disability as a basis for hate crimes prosecution. So we have voids in the Nation and this gives us an opportunity to move forward.

"This legislation is bipartisan. We have had support from both sides of the aisle to make it clear that in America we will not tolerate hate crime activities. It strengthens and removes the limitation in the current Federal law.   The law says that the Federal government can move forward only if the hate crime involves a protected activity such as voting or attending school. In this amendment, that restriction is removed so that we have more opportunities for the Federal Government to be of assistance in prosecuting hate crime activities. As I have indicated before, it includes sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability as categories of hate crime activities.

"I am very pleased it has broad support from many organizations and groups around the Nation, including the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the National District Attorneys Association, and the National Sheriffs' Association. It also enjoys support from civil rights groups including the Anti-Defamation League, Human Rights Campaign, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The U.S. Conference of Mayors also supports this legislation. It is also supported by the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, including the Maryland Disability Law Center.

"There is a broad group that supports this legislation because they know it is needed. They know we need to do a better job, and they know it is time for this Congress to act. Hate crimes are un-American. When they happen, we are all diminished and we have a responsibility to do something about it. It is time for the Senate to act.

"I thank Senator Kennedy for bringing this forward. I urge my colleagues to support it. The House has already taken similar action. It is time this legislation be submitted to the President. "