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Senate approves bill extending hate crimes protection

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Thursday voted 68-29 [roll call] to approve a bill 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 [S 909 text] is part of a $681 billion military appropriations conference report for fiscal year 2010, and enables the Department of Justice to investigate or prosecute hate crimes that result in death or serious injury by assisting state and local authorities or by assuming a principal role if those authorities are unwilling or unable to act. The bill also creates a grant program to assist state and local authorities in combating juvenile hate crimes. Organizations like the Mathew Shepard Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign [advocacy websites] and Democratic Senators like Patrick Leahy (VT) and Dianne Feinstein (CA) [press releases] hailed the favorable vote on the act, which must now be signed into law by President Barack Obama. Republican Senator Lamar Alexander (TN) deplored [press release] the vote as a "a shame that this piece of legislation was added to a bill that's supposed to be about supporting our troops," while Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) characterized the bill as unacceptable [press release] because it "says certain victims of crime are more worthy of protection than others."

The bill was approved [JURIST report] by the House of Representatives earlier this month, also facing Republican opposition. 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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