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The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Senate Adds Death Penalty Amendment to Kill Hate Crimes Legislation

July 20, 2009 - Posted by Tyler Lewis

On Friday, the Senate passed the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as an amendment to the fiscal year 2010 Department of Defense authorization bill.  But today, the Senate passed an amendment to the Act, offered by Sen. Jeff Sessions, R. Ala., that would allow the death penalty to be applied in hate crimes cases under some circumstances. 

LCCR and other civil and human rights groups that are supporting the Act do not support the Sessions amendment.  In a letter to the Senate, the groups said: "We strongly oppose this amendment...The death penalty is irreversible and highly controversial – with significant doubts about its deterrent effect and clear evidence of disproportionate application against poor people. Moreover, there are serious, well-documented concerns about unequal and racially biased application of the death penalty."

The Sessions amendment can still be removed from the bill by a House-Senate conference committee that will meet in September to reconcile the two versions of the legislation. The full House and Senate will vote on the final version of the bill before it is sent to President Obama.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act will authorize the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute certain bias-motivated crimes based on the victim's actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.  Currently, the federal government can only investigate hate crimes motivated by the victim's race, color, religion, and national origin in limited cases.

It will also provide local authorities with more resources to combat hate crimes and give the federal government jurisdiction over prosecuting hate crimes in states where the current law is inadequate or when local authorities are unwilling or do not have the resources to do so themselves. 

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