Lawmakers unveil state anti-hate crimes legislation

HARRISBURG, April 24 –State Rep. Dan Frankel and state Sen. Democratic Leader Jay Costa, both D-Allegheny, and state Rep. Napoleon Nelson, D-Montgomery, rolled out an anti-hate crimes legislative package on Monday to update the commonwealth’s response to the growing scourge of hate violence.

“Pennsylvania cannot address the growing danger of hate crimes with 40-year-old laws. It’s long past time for this commonwealth to use every tool out to there to deter and identify these crimes, and to stop them before they start,” Frankel said. “That is how we stand against hate – by actively working to protect vulnerable groups.”

The bipartisan package would expand protections to cover LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities, strengthen civil and criminal penalties, increase training for police and educators, encourage the reporting of hate-based incidents in schools and provide a mechanism by which those convicted of hate crimes perform community service or complete classes related to the motivating factor in the crime.

“It’s up to us to actively reclaim and advance our freedom to pray, gather, sing and dance in safety. We must fight to ensure that our friends and neighbors are safe in their houses of worship, on their walks to work, in their schools, seeking care and in their homes,” Costa said. “We are extremely proud to be putting forth a package of bills that will improve Pennsylvania’s ability to prevent and respond to hate crimes, while lifting up the communities at the highest risk of attack.”

The Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the FBI have all tracked a rise in the activity of hate groups in recent years, leaving vulnerable populations feeling more exposed than ever to violence and harassment.

Nelson noted that America prides itself on its diversity, as being the proverbial melting pot of the world, and yet individuals and groups are routinely the targets of hate because of their ethnicity, religion, skin color and numerous other factors.

“My own district has been forced to wrestle with local acts of violence and harassment targeting our Asian, Jewish and Muslim residents in just the past few years. Our struggles are not unique in this commonwealth, and there is no solace in our shared pain. But there is a collective reckoning that now is the time to act,” Nelson said. “This bill package, while not a panacea, takes a positive step toward ensuring that everyone – regardless of their race, ethnicity, skin color, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability status – can feel safe and protected under the law.”

Legislation to expand protections to cover LGBTQ+ people and people with disabilities was signed into law by a Republican governor more than 20 years ago, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the changes unconstitutional on technical grounds in 2008.

The lawmakers were joined by Lt. Gov. Austin Davis; House Speaker Joanna McClinton; state Rep. Jessica Benham, who is co-chair of the House LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus; and the following representatives from the Coalition Against Hate, a diverse group of organizations that have come together to fight for the bills:

  • Andrew Goretsky, ADL Philadelphia.  
  • Elise Westcott, The ARC PA.
  • Majid Alsayegh and Thomas Tropp, Philadelphia Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.
  • Navtej Grewal, Sikh Coalition.

The legislative districts of Rep. Frankel and Sen. Costa cover the Squirrel Hill neighborhood where 11 people were killed in their synagogues by an antisemitic gunman on Oct. 27, 2018.

Jury selection for the accused killer’s federal trial begins today.

EDITORS/ASSIGNMENT DESKS: Photos from the event can be found here: