U.S. Senate passes hate crimes bill

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. Senate passed legislation expanding federal involvement in investigating hate crimes.

The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act passed Thursday would expand the federal definition of hate crimes to include those motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

Supporters say the legislation will allow federal authorities to pursue hate-crimes cases when local authorities are either unable or unwilling to do so.

The measure was attached to the 2010 Defense Department authorization bill, which passed 68-29, but the key vote was a 64-35 vote to end a potential filibuster by opponents of the legislation. The House of Representatives passed the measure earlier in the month; President Obama has said he will sign it.

Numerous Jewish groups worked for more than a decade on passing the bill, chief among them the Anti-Defamation League.

In a statement, the ADL called the Senate’s final approval "a landmark achievement" and "cause for celebration."

"This legislation is the most important, comprehensive and inclusive federal hate crime law enacted in the past 40 years," said ADL national chair Glen Lewy and ADL national director Abraham Foxman in a statement.

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