U.S. representative John Conyers (D-Mich.) filed a discharge petition in Congress on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to force a vote on the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which would add penalties for bias crimes based on real or perceived sexual orientation, gender, or disability to current federal hate-crimes laws. A discharge petition is one of the few ways to force congressional leaders to schedule a vote on a measure. Because such petitions require 218 signatures, however, they are rarely successful.
According to the Washington, D.C.-based gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, the last successful discharge petition in recent memory was on campaign finance reform, and it took three years to pass. "Historically, discharge petitions have been politically risky because of the potential to polarize legislation along party lines," said HRC political director Winnie Stachelberg, who applauded Conyers for filing the petition. "We are urging every supporter of [the hate-crimes bill], Republican and Democrat alike, to be at the forefront in the effort to sign this discharge petition."