Presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) has joined forces with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to introduce bipartisan legislation aimed at boosting the enforcement of federal hate crime laws.
The introduction of the Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act was announced on January 28. It would make existing laws easier to enforce by changing the requirements for trying an offense as a hate crime.
“As a former prosecutor, I’ve seen firsthand the trauma that hate crimes can inflict not only on victims, but also on entire communities. We must stand together to make combating hate-motivated violence a priority,” said Klobuchar in a press release. “The Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act ensures that federal law enforcement have the authority needed to prosecute hate crimes. We must do all we can to put an end to attacks motivated by prejudice.”
Courts have been divided on requirements for incidents to be considered hate crimes. A 2014 decision found that bias against a protected group must be the sole motivation for a hate crime, which can be a difficult standard to meet. The new law would require bias against a protected class to be a “substantial motivating factor” in a crime, rather than the sole motivation.
The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 added bias based on sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability to existing hate crime laws dealing with race, religion and national origin. Murkowski was one of a small number of Republicans to vote in favor the bill. She believes new bill could help the earlier laws be enforced as they were intended, saying it could provide “legal certainty” for prosecutors.
“Prejudice against groups and individuals because of their sexual orientation, religion, race, or other characteristics has been part of our history. While we have made great progress in protecting our fellow Americans from acts of hatred and bias—discrimination, violence, and stereotyping still continue. It must be put to a stop,” said Murkowski. “America is a melting pot and our differences should be celebrated, not treated with prejudice. I’m proud to join Senator Klobuchar in this effort to empower federal law enforcement by providing the legal certainty they need to bring the perpetrators of hate crimes to justice.”
There were a reported 7,120 attacks motivated by bias against protected groups in 2018, a 16-year high, according to the FBI. However, hate crimes are thought to be widely underreported and gathering an accurate measure of their frequency is difficult.
The new legislation is supported by a diverse range of advocate groups, including the NAACP, Anti-Defamation League and National Disability Rights Network. A House version of the bill was yet to be introduced as of Tuesday.
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