Senate Democrats said on Monday that they would seek to broaden the federal hate crimes law to protect victims of attacks based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disabilities.
To lift the chances of passage, Democrats said the legislation, known as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, would be attached as an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill – a must-pass measure.
The proposal is named for Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student who was tied to a fence, beaten and left to die in 1998.
The Senate approved the legislation last year, also as part of the military authorization bill, but it was never reconciled with a similar House-passed bill.
Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said that he would introduce the bill as a bipartisan amendment to the defense authorization measure. Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, is also a prime sponsor.
“The hate crimes amendment would improve existing law by making it easier for federal authorities to investigate and prosecute crimes of racial, ethnic, or religious violence,” Mr. Leahy said in a statement. “Victims will no longer have to engage in a narrow range of activities, such as serving as a juror, to be protected under Federal law. It also focuses the attention and resources of the Federal government on the problem of crimes committed against people because of their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability, which is a long-overdue protection. In addition, the hate crimes amendment will provide assistance and resources to state, local, and tribal law enforcement to address hate crimes.”
Although the measure is likely to be approved in the Senate, it is unclear how quickly House Democrats will return to their version.
Opponents of the measure say that it is unnecessary because state law already covers most of the crimes.
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