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House passes bill to extend hate crimes protections

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] on Thursday approved a bill [HR 2647 materials] that extends the definition of federal hate crimes to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act [text, PDF] was passed 281-146 [roll call] as part of the conference report authorizing $681 billion in military appropriations for the 2010 fiscal year. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) [official website] welcomed [press release] the bill's passage:

This nation was founded on the promise of pluralism; a commitment to equality and opportunity; and the belief that "liberty and justice for all" is not simply an empty pledge – it rests at the core of our identity as a people. No American should ever have to suffer persecution or violence because of who they are, how they look, or what they believe

House minority leader John Boehner (R-OH) [official website] said that Republicans did not support the bill because it relied on a person's subjective state of mind to determine the level of punishment. In addition to amending the definition of hate crimes, the measure creates a $5 million grant program for state and local law enforcement agencies investigating hate crimes and directs the US attorney general [official website] to give priority to multi-state and rural crimes. The bill now moves to the Senate [official website].

The House approved similar bills in April 2009 and May 2007 [JURIST reports]. The Senate also passed [JURIST report] similar legislation in the form of an amendment to the 2008 Senate Defense Reauthorization Bill [HR 1585 materials]. However, the broadened language was ultimately removed [JURIST report] during House and Senate negotiations.

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