Pushing to change Pennsylvania’s hate crime laws

Members of the state House Democratic Policy Committee came to Philadelphia on Thursday to explore the many issues surrounding Pennsylvania’s deficient hate crimes law.

The widely publicized Sept. 11 attack on a gay couple in Center City, as well as the citywide effort to arrest the offenders spearheaded by police and Twitter users, has focused many on the fact that Pennsylvania doesn’t protect LGBT or disabled people under its hate crimes provision. In 2008, the state Supreme Court struck the language from the code on a technicality on how the law was enacted.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and PCHR Chair Thomas Earle testify at the state House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on LGBT and disability hate crimes.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and PCHR Chair Thomas Earle testify at the state House Democratic Policy Committee hearing on LGBT and disability hate crimes.

Among the many presenters at the hearing, including Philadelphia District Attorney R. Seth Williams, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and PCHR Chair Thomas Earle offered joint testimony on the need to update the law.

“In many parts of Pennsylvania, for many reasons, this city is held as a beacon of hope,” Earle said. “But if something so horrible can happen here – in a cosmopolitan and progressive city – and without appropriately applied justice, it can dash hopes for those living in less tolerant areas of the state.

“We need this law amended.”

The PCHR testimony in full can be read here.

State Rep. Brian Sims helmed the hearing. He was joined by a host of colleagues, including state Reps. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia), Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery), Mark Longietti (D-Mercer), Dom Costa (D-Allegheny), Ron Waters (D-Philadelphia), Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), Kevin Boyle (D-Philadelphia), Maria Donatucci (D-Philadelphia and Delaware), Pam DeLissio (D-Philadelphia and Montgomery), Mary Jo Daley (D-Montgomery), Joe Markosek (D-Allegheny and Westmoreland), Stephen McCarter (D-Philadelphia and Montgomery), Jarret Gibbons (D-Beaver, Butler and Lawrence) and Mike Sturla (D-Lancaster), the committee’s chair.

The Pennsylvania Legislature will adjourn on Nov. 30, ending a sine die session. Any bills that are not passed through both chambers and signed by the governor by that date will have to re-introduced in the new session. That includes House Bill 177, authored by state Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Philadelphia), who will be moving on to the U.S. Congress, and Senate Bill 42, authored by the now departing state Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny).

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