The U.S. House of Representatives today voted to pass the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, H.R. 1592, in a vote of 237 to 180.

The proposed legislation has the endorsement of 230 law enforcement, civil rights, civic and religious organisations and the support of 73% of the American people.

Yesterday the White House indicated that President Bush will veto the bill.

It was introduced in March by Congressmen John Conyers and Mark Kirk, along with more than 100 other members of Congress.

The Senate will soon consider an identical companion bill called the Mathew Shepard Act.

“This is a historic day that moves all Americans closer to safety from the scourge of hate violence,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

“Today, legislators sided with the 73% of the American people who support the expansion of hate crimes laws to include sexual orientation and gender identity.”

“I am personally grateful to the United States House for recognising the grave reality of hate crimes in America,” said Judy Shepard, Executive Director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

Each year, thousands of Americans are violently attacked just because they are black, female, Christian, or gay.

According to the FBI, 25 Americans each day are victims of hate crimes – that means approximately one hate crime is committed every hour.

One in six hate crimes are motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation.

Specifically, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act would strengthen the ability of federal, state and local governments to investigate and prosecute hate crimes based on race, religion, colour, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability and gender identity.

It would strengthen state and local efforts by enabling the Justice Department to assist in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes.

The bill will also provide grants to help state and local governments meet the extraordinary expenses involved in hate crime cases.

Under the current federal law, enacted nearly 40 years ago, the government has the authority to help investigate and prosecute bias-motivated attacks based on race, colour, national origin and religion and because the victim was attempting to exercise a federally protected right.

A wide coalition of national organisations has called for the passage of the LLEHCPA legislation.

Some of those supporting this legislation include: the National Sheriffs Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 26 state attorneys general and the National District Attorneys Association.

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