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Bills to combat hate crimes gain Pennsylvania House approval

The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.
Commonwealth Media Services
The Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg.

Three bills seeking to expand and strengthen Pennsylvania's anti-hate crime statutes were passed Tuesday by the state House of Representatives.

All members of the chamber's Democratic majority supported the proposals along with a handful of Republicans, voting amid national concerns about a spike in hate crimes during the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas.

Hate crimes overall increased in the U.S. last year, according to a report released by the FBI earlier this month. The annual report showed hate crimes increased by 7% to 11,634 cases in 2022 compared to the previous year.

Sponsors of the proposed changes in Pennsylvania said the state experienced a sharp increase in hate crimes in 2021, more than any other year since tracking of such incidents began in 1997.

The legislation also comes on the heels of the five-year mark since the Tree of Life shooting that killed 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue building, an attack driven by the gunman's antisemitic hatred.

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One bill would change the state's ethnic intimidation statute to a “hate-based intimidation” law and extend its protections to include victims targeted because of their race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, ancestry, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, age and disability, including autism. The measure, which passed 116-86, would provide a way for victims to sue.

A second bill, approved on a vote of 112 to 90, addresses how law enforcement investigates hate crimes, requiring annual training about how to investigate, identify and report hate crimes. The training would be done in consultation with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the state attorney general.

The third measure, which passed 111-91, would have higher education institutions expand their online and anonymous reporting options to include hate crime for students and employees. It also encourages training for K-12 school employees in identifying and addressing hate incidents. The attorney general's office, which oversees a youth violence prevention program, will be required to incorporate training on how to recognize and report hate-based intimidation.

“The conflict in Israel has Jewish and Muslim Pennsylvanians feeling afraid – afraid to leave home, afraid to practice their faith, afraid to gather with their communities at a time when such events would bring them the most comfort,” the bills’ sponsor, Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, said in a statement.

The measures were sent to the state Senate for its consideration.

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