Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Monday announced his intent to introduce the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act as a bipartisan amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill this week.
I don't know if Leahy will be able to pull this off. Apparently, it doesn't have enough support to pass on its own, so the ploy is to attach it to something that has to pass.
Existing hate crimes law covers race, color, national origin, or religion, but only where the victim is engaging in one of the following federally protected activities: (1) attending or enrolling in a public school or public college; (2) participating in a benefit, service, privilege, program, facility or activity administered by a state or local government; (3) applying for or working in private or state employment; (4) serving as a juror in a state court; (5) using a facility of interstate commerce or a common carrier; or (6) enjoying public accommodations or places of exhibition or entertainment. The bill eliminates the outdated “federally protected activities” requirement and expands the federal government’s ability to prosecute crimes targeting victims because of their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability.
In other words, eliminate all "outdated" federalist limitations on federal intrusion into state business.
As you may or may not be aware, murder and other crimes of violence are already against the law in just about any state you can name. Most states already have hate crimes legislation, as well. The initial point of this bill is to violate the Constitution's prohibition on double jeopardy by giving prosecutors two bites at the apple with politically unpopular defendants. Leahy's press release explains that it will be used when "a state prosecution has failed to vindicate the federal interest against hate-motivated violence" -- i.e., when a state jury has acquitted somebody the feds don't like.
The long term goal is likely to lay the groundwork for eventually prosecuting dissident voices on the Internet, such as, oh, me.