RICHMOND, Va. (WVEC) -- Attorney General Mark R. Herring Wednesday announced a new package of legislation to protect racial, ethnic, and religious minorities and other vulnerable communities in Virginia from hate crimes and to establish a more inclusive definition of "hate crime."

Another bill from Senator Favola, Delegate Rip Sullivan, and Attorney General will finally update Virginia's definition of "hate crime" to include disability, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, in addition to crimes motivated by racial, religious, or ethnic animosity.

Under legislation from Senator Barbara Favola, Delegate Lamont Bagby, and Attorney General Herring, the Virginia Attorney General will be empowered to investigate and prosecute suspected hate crimes through the Commonwealth's network of multi-jurisdictional grand juries, which serve nearly 100 localities and give prosecutors additional tools and resources when investigating crimes and building cases.

Attorney General Herring also announced the launch of, a website that provides information about the rights of Americans to be free from bias-based crimes, as well as state and federal laws to protect against hate crimes and illegal discrimination.

In 2015, there were 155 hate crime offenses reported in Virginia, including 71 assaults, and 49 acts of vandalism or damage to property. This represents a 21% increase over the prior year and an increase in hate crimes was recorded in nearly every reported category.

"Hate crimes violate the civil liberties of victims and are contrary to the very founding principles of our Commonwealth and our country," said Attorney General Herring. "I want every Virginian to know that I will always stand up for them and their right to live, work, worship, and love without fear, harassment, or discrimination."