A bill that cleared the U.S. House of Representatives and is awaiting Senate action seeks to bolster prosecution of hate crimes, reports Stateline.org. It would authorize special funding to state and local law enforcement to investigate and prosecute such crimes, and expand protection for the first time to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, and the mentally and physically disabled. Currently, such protections are extended only on the basis of race, religion, and national origin.
Critics are raising concerns about the measure’s expansion of federal jurisdiction. It would repeal a provision of an earlier law, a 1969 restriction that limits federal hate crimes prosecutions to cases in which victims are engaged in six categories of protected activity – including going to school, serving on a jury, and eating in a lunchroom. Known as the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the bill is named for the University of Wyoming student murdered in 1998 allegedly because he was gay. Only four states besides Wyoming – Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana and South Carolina – do not have state hate crimes laws.