May 01, 2009

Gillibrand Cosponsors Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009

Gives Law Enforcement Better Tools to Combat Hate Crimes

Washington, D.C. - In an effort to combat hate crimes, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand this week served as an original co-sponsor of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 - legislation to expand federal law to give federal, state, local and tribal governments the strength they need to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

The bill, named after a young man who was fatally beaten in 1998 because of his sexual orientation, provides grants to improve the education and training of local officials to identify, investigate, prosecute and prevent hate crimes. It also expands the type of statistics currently collected by the FBI to improve monitoring of hate crimes.

"It is time for Congress to take a strong stance against all hate crimes, which target an individual based on who they are," Senator Gillibrand. "This bipartisan legislation will give law enforcement the tools they need to find, prosecute and bring to justice anyone who commits a hate-motivated crime, and provide critical protection to keep New York communities safe."

Below is list of action the bill takes:

Hate Crimes Covered 
The bill eliminates the outdated "federally protected activities" requirement and expands the federal government's ability to prosecute crimes targeting victims because of their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.  Existing hate crimes law covers race, color, national origin, or religion, but only where the victim is engaging in one of the following federally protected activities: (1) attending or enrolling in a public school or public college; (2) participating in a benefit, service, privilege, program, facility or activity administered by a state or local government; (3) applying for or working in private or state employment; (4) serving as a juror in a state court; (5) using a facility of interstate commerce or a common carrier; or (6) enjoying public accommodations or places of exhibition or entertainment.

Federal Assistance and Training Grants
The bill authorizes the Attorney General to provide technical, forensic, prosecutorial and other assistance to state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials for hate crime investigations and prosecutions.  Additionally, the Justice Department is authorized to increase personnel to improve prevention and response to allegations of hate crimes.  The bill also authorizes $5 million for fiscal years 2010 and 2011 for Justice Department grants of up to $100,000 to state, local, and tribal law enforcement officials who have incurred extraordinary expenses associated with investigating and prosecuting hate crimes.  Finally, the bill authorizes grants by the Office of Justice Programs to state, local, and tribal programs to combat hate crimes committed by juveniles, including programs to train local law enforcement officers in identifying, investigating, prosecuting, and preventing hate crimes.

Certification Requirement
The bill authorizes the federal government to step in when needed, but only after the Justice Department meets the certification process outlined in the bill.  The Justice Department must certify that the state in which the hate crime occurred either does not have jurisdiction; has asked the federal government to assume jurisdiction; a state prosecution has failed to vindicate the federal interest against hate-motivated violence; or a federal prosecution is in the public interest and necessary to secure substantial justice.  In other words, rather than take over cases that would normally be pursued at the state or local level, the bill will provide a federal backstop for state and local law enforcement to deal with hate crimes that otherwise might not be effectively investigated and prosecuted, or for which states request assistance.

Collection of Statistics
Currently, the FBI collects statistics on hate crimes based on race, color, national origin, religion, and sexual orientation.  This bill increases the federal government's ability to monitor hate crimes by including statistics on gender and gender identity-based hate crimes, as well as hate crimes committed by juveniles.