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Congress Passes Hate Crimes Bill

The Senate passed The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr Hate Crimes Prevention Act yesterday on a 68 to 29 vote. The bill extends the definition of federal hate crimes to include attacks motivated by sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law, the New York Times reports. The bill passed in the House on October 8 with a vote of 281 to 146.

The bill is named for two men who were slain in alleged hate crimes in 1998. Matthew Shepard, a gay university student, was murdered in Wyoming, and James Byrd, Jr.,an African-American man, was dragged to death by white supremacists in Texas. The bill empowers federal authorities to help local law enforcement investigate hate crimes, reports the Los Angeles Times. The current federal hate crimes law only covers attacks motivated by race, color, national origin or religion.

Supporters are celebrating the bill’s passage after a decade of advocacy work. Judy Shepard, mother of Matthew Shepard and president of a foundation named for her son, stated, “Hate crimes continue to affect far too many Americans who are simply trying to live their lives honestly, and they need to know that their government will protect them from violence, and provide appropriate justice for victims and their families,” according to CNN.

Sources:

New York Times 10/22/09; Los Angeles Times 10/23/09; CNN 10/23/09

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