Last night, the Senate adopted four amendments to the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (aka The Matthew Shepard Act or less formally, the federal hate crimes bill), which has been attached to a Department of Defense appropriations bill.
1615, adds the death penalty to the provisions of the Matthew Shepard
Act. HRC strongly opposed this unwelcome amendment and hopes to address
it as the Act continues through the legislative process. The Amendment
was offered by and supported by Senators who oppose the Matthew Shepard
Act in an effort to derail the Act. Fortunately, a side-by-side-
amendment offered by Senator Kennedy was also added to the bill. The
Kennedy amendment provides for additional restrictions in the use of
the death penalty under the Act.
"The third amendment requires the Attorney General to promulgate
guidelines with “neutral and objective criteria for determining whether
a crime was motivated by the status of the victim.”
"A final Sessions amendment, SA 1616, was adopted by a vote of 92 to
0. This amendment creates a new federal criminal offense for cases
involving assaults or battery of a U.S. service member – or a member of
the service member’s immediate family."
The Human Rights Campaign strongly opposes the amendments and says that once the Defense Department authorization bill is adopted it will go to a conference committee. HRC says they will strongly "urges the amendments to be removed."
In related news, the ACLU has said that the Senate version of the hate crimes bill could infringe on free speech rights: "In its July 17 statement, the ACLU says the Senate hate crimes measure,
set to be an amendment to the fiscal year 2010 defense authorization
bill, lacks "the strong protections for speech and association" found
in the House version of the legislation that lawmakers in that chamber
approved in June. The Senate approved a motion for cloture on the hate crimes amendment late Thursday night, 63-28."
UPDATE: The Senate has voted to strike funding for the F-22. Obama had said that if the F-22 funding was included in the DoD bill, he would veto it.