Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced Tuesday that he'll bring a bill that would add disability, gender and sexual orientation to the list of hate crime protections to a vote in the Senate this week.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S909) is named after Matthew Shepard, a student at the University of Wyoming who was killed in 1998 by two men he met in a gay bar. He was beaten and left to die shackled to a post along a rural road near Laramie.

Reid, appearing in a news conference with Matthew Shepard's mother, Judy Shepard, said he'll bring the legislation to a vote in the Senate this week.

“This week, we'll bring to the floor the Matthew Shepard hate crime legislation, so named in the honor of Judy Shepard's son,” he said.

“Judy Shepard has shown incredible strength, leadership and dedication to bringing justice to America and to her son. She and many others who have suffered taught us that we cannot be afraid to call these crimes what they – hate crimes,” he added.

Lawmakers in the House approved similar legislation in April and President Obama has said he will sign the bill.

Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy is the sponsor of the Senate measure. It has attracted 45 co-sponsors, according to the Library of Congress, less than the 60 votes needed to end debate on a bill and fewer than the 50 votes needed for passage.

The New York Times reported Monday that Senate Democrats will introduce the bill as an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill in an effort to increase its chances of passage.

Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called the protections “long-overdue.”

“The hate crimes amendment would improve existing law by making it easier for federal authorities to investigate and prosecute crimes of racial, ethnic, or religious violence,” Leahy said in a statement. “Victims will no longer have to engage in a narrow range of activities, such as serving as a juror, to be protected under Federal law. It also focuses the attention and resources of the Federal government on the problem of crimes committed against people because of their sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability, which is a long-overdue protection. In addition, the hate crimes amendment will provide assistance and resources to state, local, and tribal law enforcement to address hate crimes.”

Opponents call the law unnecessary. During debate on the House version, Representative Virginia Foxx, a Republican from North Carolina, denied Matthew Shepard died from a hate crime, calling his martyrdom a hoax.

“The bill was named after a very unfortunate incident that happened, where a young man was killed, but we know that that young man was killed in the commitment of robbery. It wasn't because he was gay. The bill was named for him, the hate crimes bill was named for him, but it's … really a hoax, that that continues to be used as an excuse for passing these bills.”

Passage of hate crimes legislation is a top priority of gay rights advocates.