Hate crime legislation introduced in Pa. House, Senate

Legislation will give state the tools to prevent and address hate crimes across commonwealth

HARRISBURG, Oct. 30 – As Pennsylvanians paused to mark one year since the terror attack in Squirrel Hill, legislators in the Pennsylvania House and Senate have moved to introduce a comprehensive legislative package to address hate crimes.

The legislation, sponsored by state Reps. Dan Frankel and Ed Gainey, both D-Allegheny, state Sen. Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, and state Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Phila., will bring Pennsylvania’s hate crime laws into the modern era, extend protections to threatened communities, and give law enforcement the tools it needs to prevent and address hate crimes across the commonwealth.

“An attack on an individual or group because of who they are or who they love victimizes both the immediate target of the crime and their larger community. It’s an attack on these groups’ sense of security and their connection to the world around them,” Frankel said. “The penalties that these perpetrators suffer should reflect both crimes – those against individual victims and the broader targeted community.”

 “We can’t legislate hate; there are no laws we can write that will change what is in someone’s heart, but that doesn’t mean we can do nothing in the face of hate crimes,” Costa said. “The attack on the synagogue in Squirrel Hill, and other hate crimes around this state, have shown that there are gaps in our laws. We can do better.”

“Hate based intimidation is completely unacceptable, and our laws in Pennsylvania need to be strong and clear that hate will not be tolerated in any form or any place,” Farnese said. “People should not fear for their lives in their places of worship, because of their ethnicity, nationality, who they are and who they love, or how they chose to express their true selves. Hate cannot be excused or explained away.”

“Across our nation and in our own communities there has been an increase in the number of hate crimes,” Gainey said. “These crimes don’t just victimize one individual, but sow fear and mistrust across entire communities. We need to be able to address these actions, and to protect threatened individuals and groups. What we have done is put together a package of bills that will enable our state to react to these crimes and protect its citizens and I hope that the legislature will move quickly to adopt them.”

Costa, Farnese, Gainey, Frankel and other lawmakers were joined by several religious and community organizations at a news conference to mark the formal introduction of their legislation.

Specifically, their package of bills would:

  • Increase penalties for those convicted of a hate crime.
  • Provide law enforcement with training to identify and react to hate crimes.
  • Educate those convicted of a hate crime to help toward rehabilitation.
  • Extend protections to individuals from the LGBTQ and disabled communities.
  • Provide school and college students with a way to anonymously report hate crimes.

The attacks in Squirrel Hill and other communities have come amid a five-year upward trend in reported hate crimes, according to the FBI, although they remain vastly underreported. Meanwhile, as federal hate crime prosecutions have declined, it has fallen upon state legislators to pick up the mantle and pass policies and laws to protect citizens.

“I refuse to accept the idea that we are helpless in the face of an evil doer like the one who struck on October 27, 2018,” Frankel said. “As lawmakers, this is our work at its most basic: we protect the people of Pennsylvania.”