Legislation Would Establish Security Grants For Synagogues And Other Institutions In PA

Oct 28, 2019

Two bills moving through the Pennsylvania legislature would establish security grants for religious and community organizations. The legislation was in response to the Tree of Life synagogue shooting.

Sen. Jay Costa, a Democrat from Forest Hills, is one of the primary sponsors of Senate Bill 676. It and its companion bill in the house -- House Bill 859 -- would establish $5 million in grants to support a variety of security measures.

"They could be metal detectors, new lighting, surveillance equipment or electronic locks," Costa said. "All those things would be eligible under this program."

The grants will be available for nonprofits that support groups historically targeted by hate crimes, as defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigations. This includes spaces serving not only the Jewish community, but also LGBTQ, Muslim and black people as well.

"The shooting that took place on Oct. 27, 2018 happened to target the Jewish community," said Josh Sayles, director of community relations for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh. "But unfortunately things like this could have and have happened anywhere."

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh represents more than 50 Jewish insitutions in western Pennsylvania. Sayles said if the legislation passes, the Jewish Federation will encourage all its groups to apply for the grants.

"We will provide advice on where their security could be stronger," Sayles said. "Some of the improvements that we would use this funding for include remote panic buttons and reinforced doors." 

The bills have received overwhelming bipartisan support in the legislature and are expected to be signed by Gov. Tom Wolf.