By Bob Roehr
WASHINGTON – Hate crimes legislation that includes gays and lesbians, and for the first time transgender persons, passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Sept. 14.
The 223 to 199 vote came on an amendment to add the Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act (HR 2662) to the Children’s Safety Act. Democrats provided 192 votes while 30 Republicans voted affirmatively. The final measure passed by a wider margin.
The action came with no public build up by supporters and caught many observers by surprise. The Republican leadership previously had prevented consideration of a stand alone bill. It is unclear why they acquiesced on an amendment vote or who may claim credit for brokering such a deal.
“It shows unequivocally that those who said that Congress couldn’t pass a trans-inclusive bill were just wrong,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. She said that no similar state or local measure ever has been defeated because it included transpersons.
“Hate crimes send a message of fear and Congress answered with a powerful law enforcement tool,” said Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese. “We must ensure that some of the most heinous crimes are fully prosecuted and enforced.”
“Current federal law does not give local authorities the tools needed to prosecute crimes targeting individuals based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Eric Stern, executive director of National Stonewall Democrats. “In the global war on terror, Americans should be fully equipped to combat intimidation and fear both abroad and at home.”
“Never before has the House of Representatives voted to protect transgender people in any way,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. “It proves that even in times of adversity for our community, when grassroots voices keep up the press on our elected officials, decency can prevail.”
“We hope that the political courage that Republican House members showed will be a sign to those in the party who seek to promote a divisive social agenda — your days are numbered. We have always known that history and common decency were on our side, and today’s vote proves that,” said Christopher Barron, spokesman for Log Cabin Republicans.
This is the first time that trans-inclusive language has been included in the House version of the measure. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate without that language.
Further complicating predictions of whether it will become law is that fact the Children’s Safety Act contains provisions for registration and public listing of convicted sex offenders who have completed their time in jail and are back in the community.
Some have objected to those provisions, citing the recent example of a person in Washington state who noted the address of two ex-offenders on a webpage and went to their residence and shot them dead.
Meanwhile, on Sept. 15, the House Government Reform Committee passed a bill clarifying protection from anti-gay discrimination in the federal workplace. The Clarification of Federal Protections Act was introduced by two senior members of the committee, Christopher Shays (R-Connecticut) and Henry Waxman (D-California), and passed on a unanimous voice vote.
The move was prompted by actions by Scott Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel, who rolled back protections for gay federal employees that had been standard for several administrations.