Pennsylvania House passes package of bills that would strengthen and expand the state’s anti-hate crime laws

State Senator Jay Costa (D) and State Representative Dan Frankel (D).

The Pennsylvania House on Tuesday passed three bills that would amend and strengthen the state’s anti-hate crime laws.

“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,” state Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), the bills’ prime sponsor, said in a statement. “The vast majority of Pennsylvanians want this commonwealth to be a welcoming, diverse place for all, and that is the call legislators answered today.”

House Bill 1027, which passed the House 116-86,  would amend the state’s ethnic intimidation statute to make it a hate-based intimidation law that provided protections for people 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 bill would give victims a way to sue offenders.

Under House Bill 1024, law enforcement personnel would receive annual training on how to investigate, identify, and report hate crimes. The training would help officials track such crimes, which experts have agreed are under-reported and often not categorized accurately. It passed the House by a vote of 112-90. 

House Bill 1025 would require postsecondary schools to offer online and anonymous hate crime reporting options for students and employees. It would encourage training for employees of K-12 schools to help them identify and address hate incidents, ideally before they become deadly. It passed the House 111-91.

“Look at the headlines about what’s happening at our colleges, and you’ll see why kids don’t feel safe on campus – especially if they’re black, brown, Jewish, Muslim,” said Rep. Napoleon Nelson (D-Philadelphia)  co-sponsor of HB 1024 and 1025. “I wish I could say our legislation will help eradicate hate. It won’t – that’s a different conversation. But House Bill 1024 and House Bill 1025 would help us better understand and recognize ethnic intimidation, which often goes unreported.”

Companion legislation has been introduced in the state Senate by Minority Leader Jay Costa, (D-Allegheny).

The House passage of the legislation comes just over five years after a gunman shot and killed 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. The gunman, Robert Bowers, was convicted in June on 11 counts of a hate crime act resulting in death and was sentenced to death by a federal jury in August. 

The package of bills now heads to the state Senate for consideration.

This article was originally published by our partners at the Pennsylvania Capital-Star on October 31, 2023.