The Senate approved legislation Thursday to make crimes committed against a person based on their disability a federal offense.

The hate crimes legislation, which passed the House of Representatives earlier this month, is an expansion of the 1968 hate crimes act. Currently crimes committed based on a person’s race, color, religion or national origin are protected under federal law. The new legislation would add disability, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected statuses.

The measure, which was attached to a defense spending bill, passed the Senate on a vote of 68 to 29. Most Republicans opposed the legislation, saying it was unnecessary.

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Expanded hate crimes legislation has long been sought by many advocates. The Bush administration opposed the legislation, but the tone changed dramatically when President Barack Obama took office.

In June Attorney General Eric Holder urged the Senate to pass the new bill and now it appears set for enactment. In order to become law, the bill must be signed by Obama, who has indicated his support.

“The action by Congress today to pass this vital legislation is a milestone in helping protect Americans from the most heinous bias-motivated violence,” Holder said in a statement Thursday. “The passage of this legislation will give the Justice Department and our state and local law enforcement partners the tools we need to deter and prosecute these acts of violence.”

A Justice Department study released earlier this month found that people with disabilities are 50 percent more likely to experience nonfatal violent crime than those without disabilities. Furthermore, about one in five crime victims with disabilities say they believe their disability was the reason they were targeted.