The letter, signed by the Attorneys General of 25 states and 1 territory, urges the Armed Services Committees in the U.S. House and Senate, including Congressman Ike Skelton (MO-04), to retain the Hate Crime Prevention Act in the final version of the Department of Defense Authorization legislation. The HCPA was added to the Department of Defense Authorization by the Senate, and last week the Defense Authorization was approved by the House. The legislation must now be approved by the Senate before being sent to the President's desk for final approval. President Obama supports a final version that includes the HCPA and has committed to signing the legislation.
The Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act would add gender, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability to current federal hate crime laws, which already include race, religion, and national origin, and provide federal assistance to state and local agencies in the investigation and prosecution of hate crimes. In addition, the HCPA would remove outmoded jurisdictional barriers that currently only allow hate crimes to be prosecuted if the victim is engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting. In the letter, the 26 Attorneys General note:
As the chief legal officers in our respective jurisdictions, State Attorneys General are on the front lines in the fight to protect our citizens' civil rights. Although state and local governments continue to have the primary responsibility for enforcing criminal law, we believe that federal assistance is critical in fighting the invidious [sic] effects of hate crimes.
A.J. Bockelman, Executive Director of PROMO, said, "We are proud to see Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster sign this letter of support for the Matthew Shepard Hate Crime Prevention Act. Missouri was the first state in the country to have hate crime laws inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. Cleary our Attorney General understands the importance of this legislation at the federal level." Bockelman continued, "In addition, Mr. Koster's support of the Matthew Shepard Act, and his work to urge Congress to approve the legislation, shows the importance of electing the right people to office. When our elected officials support the safety and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Missourians, we see the movement for equal treatment under the law advance at record pace."