Washington Outlook

Hate Crimes Bill Passed in Senate

By Ed Somers
July 17, 2000

By a 57-42 vote, the Senate has approved legislation which would strengthen federal hate-crime law by extending civil rights protections for the first time to include violence based on gender, sexual orientation and disabilities.

The bi-partisan proposal was sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy (MA) and Gordon H. Smith (OR). If enacted, the bill would be the first major expansion of hate-crime law since the original bill was passed in 1968. The current law covers only crimes involving race, color, religion or national origin.

In addition to extending protections, the bill would also drop a current restriction limiting federal involvement to cases where victims are engaged in federally protected activities, such as voting, serving on a jury, or attending school. The bill would also provide federal assistance for state and local authorities in investigating and prosecuting hate crimes, along with training grants to help local authorities deal with hate crimes.

The bill was included in a Defense Department authorization bill (S 2549) on June 20. However, the House version of the DoD bill does not contain similar language, so the fate of the provision is in question.

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