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Anti-Hate Crime Bills Introduced To Pennsylvania Legislature

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Katie Blackley
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90.5 WESA
The Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill. On October 27, 2018 a gunman killed 11 worshipers at the site, allegedly because he held anti-semitic views.

A package of bills meant to strengthen Pennsylvania's hate crime laws has been introduced in the state legislature. A group of democratic state representatives and senators announced the package Wednesday.

The legislation would increase penalties for those who commit hate crimes, extend protections to LGBTQ and disabled people, and train law enforcement to better identify these attacks. The bills would also require universities and colleges to provide a way for students to annonymously report a hate crime.

"The prevention, the education and the punishment legislated through this package are crucial for us taking a step towards making Pennsylvania a better place," said Wasi Mohammed, former executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh. 

Democratic Rep. Dan Frankel introduced the House versions of the bills. Frankel's district includes Squirrel Hill, where 11 people were killed in a mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue last year. He said that act of violence, and a general increase in hate crimes, motivated him to introduce the bills.

According to the FBI, hate crimes in the United States have been on the rise since 2015. In 2009, the federal government passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which expanded the definition of a hate crime and extended protections to include gender, sexual orientation and disability. Frankel said Pennsylvania's laws lag behind.

"The penalties that these perpetrators suffer should reflect two crimes: those against individual victims and the broader targeted community," Frankel said.

Frankel said there's bipartisan support for these bills, but that there's still work to be done to secure enough votes in the Republican-controlled legislature.

"I'm optimistic, but also realistic in the fact that this has a lot of work to get done," Frankel said. "A lot of advocacy is going to be necessary to get this over the finish line."