House expands hate crimes legislation

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill expanding the legal definition of a violent federal hate crime to include gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability

The vote Thursday passed 281 to 146. Similar legislation is under consideration in the Senate.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named for memory of Matthew Shepard, a gay Wyoming college student brutally murdered in 1998, strengthens existing laws giving the Department of Justice jurisdiction in crimes where the perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability were motivating factor.  The measure also makes grants available to state and local communities to train authorities to better address bias-motived crimes.

Groups including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the National Council of Jewish Women had lobbied for passage.

The Anti-Defamation League called the bill’s passage "monumental."

"This victory is the direct result of persistent efforts to educate members of Congress about the nature and impact of hate violence in America," it said in a statement. "It was achieved thanks to strong support from a broad coalition of civil rights, education, religious and law enforcement organizations."

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