U.S. House passes "hate crime" bill that Bush opposed

Wed Apr 29, 2009 5:57pm EDT
 
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By Thomas Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday approved an expansion of federal "hate crime" laws -- an effort that former Republican President George W. Bush had opposed.

On a vote of 249-175, the House passed and sent to the Senate a bill backed by the new Democratic White House to broaden such laws by classifying as "hate crimes" those attacks based on a victim's sexual orientation, gender identity or mental or physical disability.

The current law, enacted four decades ago, limits federal jurisdiction over hate crimes to assaults based on race, color, religion or national origin.

The bill would lift a requirement that a victim had to be attacked while engaged in a federally protected activity, like attending school, for it to be a federal hate crime.

House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer urged passage of the Federal Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.

"Hate crimes motivated by race, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, and identity or disability not only injure individual victims, but also terrorize entire segments of our population and tear at our nation's social fabric," Hoyer said.

Bush had helped stop such a bill in the last Congress, arguing existing state and federal laws were adequate. But President Barack Obama asked Congress to send it to him to sign into law.

"I urge members on both sides of the aisle to act on this important civil rights issue by passing this legislation to protect all of our citizens from violent acts of intolerance," Obama said in a statement before the vote.   Continued...

 
<p>The U.S. Capitol building is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 24, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young</p>