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A friend of mine just got a response from Senator McCaskill regarding her position on hate crimes legislation, which I’ve copied below (minus my friend’s name.)

Dear ——–:

Thank you for contacting me regarding efforts to protect Americans from hate crimes. I appreciate hearing from you, and I welcome the chance to respond.

Hate crimes are destructive and divisive. Any random act of violence is a tragic event that can devastate the lives of the victim and his or her family, but the intentional beating or murder of an individual based on who they are can terrorize an entire community. Current hate crimes law is limited to investigating and prosecuting certain civil rights offenses when it is determined that the offender was motivated by a bias against race, color, religion, national origin and, in limited instances, disability. In the 110th Congress, Senator Kennedy (D-MA) and Senator Smith (R-OR), introduced the Matthew Shepard Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S. 1105) in an attempt to strengthen current law and expand it to cover sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability.

The Senate voted in favor of attaching the Kennedy-Smith hate crimes bill to the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1585). I supported this amendment because there is evidence that violent, bias-motivated crimes are widespread and a serious problem within our nation. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) statistics show that since 1991, over 100,000 hate crimes have been reported, with 7,720 in 2006, the FBI’s most recent reporting period. We need strong laws at every level – local, state and federal – to prevent these crimes. Unfortunately, while the Senate passed the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 93 to 2, the hate crimes language was later stripped from the bill during negotiations to iron out the differences between the Senate-passed and House-passed versions.

I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind should hate crimes legislation be introduced in this 111th Congress. It is important to note that previous hate crimes legislation sought to protect innocent Americans from violent crimes without infringing upon the constitutionally-protected right to free speech. Hate crimes laws punish violent acts, not beliefs or thoughts – even violent thoughts. Proponents of hate crimes legislation do not seek to punish, nor prohibit in any way, name-calling, verbal abuse or expressions of moral disapproval toward any group. I will oppose any proposals that infringe upon the lawful expression of one’s deeply held beliefs.

Again, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with me. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance.

All best,

Senator Claire McCaskill

Overall, it’s a good response. McCaskill points out the need for stricter laws and greater resources provided to law enforcement at all levels in order to protect against an increase in violence motivated by race, gender, religion, and/or sexual orientation. And she succinctly defangs critics who claim that hate crimes laws would criminalize thought and persecute people for their religious beliefs.

But she’s wrong about one thing. McCaskill claims in her first sentence, that she “will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind should hate crimes legislation be introduced in this 111th Congress.” Thing is, such a bill has already been introduced in the 111th Congress. HR 1913 passed the House back in April and was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Maybe my friend is confused about when she received McCaskill’s e-mail. Or maybe because McCaskill isn’t on the committee that received the bill in the Senate, she wasn’t aware of it yet. Or possibly there’s some Senate jargon that I don’t understand, and a Senator generally doesn’t state that a bill is before her until she has a chance to vote on it – in McCaskill’s case, when the bill reaches the floor.

Regardless, based on her letter and her support of previous hate crimes legislation, I’m confident that Claire will do the right thing and vote yes when she gets the chance.