Despite numerous ups and downs, the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act remains in tact and stands a reasonable chance of making it to President Barack Obamaâs desk for a signature later this year.
The biggest hurdle to hate crimes becoming law is that while it passed the House as a stand-alone bill, it was not included in the House version of the Department of Defense authorization bill. Because the Senate passed hate crimes as an amendment to DOD legislation, the two versions of that bill must be reconciled in conference during August and September.
A spokesperson for the Human Rights Campaign said all parties involved in that discussion have expressed support for including the hate crimes provision in the final DOD bill.
âWe have strong commitments from the leaders and our allies on the Hill and in the White House that they want to see the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes measure remain in the bill and get to the president's desk for signature,â said Allison Herwitt, legislative director for HRC.
One major roadblock to enacting Hate Crimes was removed Tuesday when the Senate voted 58-40 to strip $1.75 billion in funding for F-22 fighter jets that President Barack Obama vehemently opposed.
The House version of the DOD bill still includes $369 million for advanced purchase of F-22 parts, and White House press secretary Robert Gibbs renewed a veto threat Tuesday if the funding remained in the legislation.
Four amendments to the Senateâs Hate Crimes provision were adopted Monday, but HRCâs Herwitt said none of them significantly alter the integrity of the measure.
âThe core principles of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act remain in tact,â she said.
Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama sponsored three of the amendments: one requiring the Attorney General to issue guidelines with âneutral and objective criteria for determining whether a crime was motivated by the status of the victim;â another creating a new federal offense for crimes committed against service members or their families; and a third adding death penalty provisions to the hate crimes measure.
Sessionsâ third amendment was weakened by a fourth measure, sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy, which outlined restrictions for using the death penalty under hate crimes.
Major LGBT rights groups decried Sessionsâ death penalty amendment as an effort to derail the act.
"Opponents of hate crimes legislation have pushed for a death penalty amendment in the hopes of stopping passage of the hate crimes measure,â said Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. âThis tactic is disingenuous, outrageous and immoral.â
The Senate is scheduled to vote Wednesday on one more contentious amendment to hate crimes that would allow licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines. The outcome of the measure, sponsored by GOP Senator John Thune of South Dakota, remains far from clear and continues to be hotly debated among Democrats.
While HRC has no official position on the gun amendment, the LGBT conservative group GOProud endorsed it.
âIncluding concealed carry reciprocity language in the hate crimes legislation will empower individuals to lawfully defend themselves from becoming victims of violent crime,â GOProud said in a joint statement with Gun Owners of America.
Ultimately, the fate of hate crimes and all its attendant amendments will be hashed out in the House-Senate conference on the DOD authorization bill. Conferees will informally meet over the August recess, when many of the issues will get worked out by Congressional staffers.
Major sticking points will be finalized by Congressional members when they return in September.
âI'm assuming the F-22 funding will be among the most challenging issues,â said Herwitt.