HARRISBURG, Pa. (WKBN) – A little more than six months after the deadly shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, lawmakers are now introducing bills to strengthen Pennsylvania’s hate crime laws.
In 2017, there were almost 8,500 hate crimes reported in the United States, a 17% increase. Now, lawmakers in the House and Senate are looking to tackle the problem.
This week, Democratic senators and representatives announced a package of legislation to strengthen hate crime laws in Pennsylvania.
“We have an obligation to protect our people. At all times. All people. We should live free of hate, and that’s why these bills are so important,” said Rep. Ed Gainey.
The bills would increase civil and criminal penalties for hate crimes, train police officers to investigate, identify and report hate crimes and allow the attorney general the option of investigating those crimes.
“Give the attorney general the opportunity, with concurrent jurisdiction, to prosecute these cases, something that we think is very important,” said Sen. Jay Costa.
And with more than 1,000 hate groups in the U.S., this package would also establish a hate group database.
“We need to do a better job of understanding how many there are, what they’re up to, and we need to provide resources along those lines in order to address that,” Costa said.
“Acts of hate are growing throughout our world and we have to be more cognizant. We have to be more aggressive in stopping these hate crimes,” said Hank Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition.
Butler believes these bills have been a long time coming and has faith that lawmakers in the state capitol can come together to get them passed.
“These are good, strong bills and we do think we can get them to the governor’s desk,” Butler said.