Updated, 1:23 p.m. Aug. 21
In another sign that the impact of Charlottesville continues to resonate both in the nation’s capital and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania state legislators gathered in Pittsburgh today to renew calls for an expansion of Pennsylvania’s hate crimes law and the restoration of provisions previously cut by the state’s Supreme Court in 2008.
In a press conference held at the Hill District’s Freedom Corner this morning, Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, immediately cited Charlottesville as an impetus for his push backing two pieces of legislation that have sat in committees in both the state House and state Senate since February.
“The hatred and ugliness displayed by white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, which culminated in murder, has been followed by a lack of leadership from the White House. So it is more important that state and local leaders and people of good will do what we can,” Frankel said.
The bills being pursued by the representative — HB 505 and SB 96 — would add to the protected groups and circumstances covered by Pennsylvania’s hate crimes statute. This includes those victims of crimes based on actual or perceived ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation and gender or gender identity. Pennsylvania law was amended in 2002 with bipartisan support to include some of those categories — sexual orientation, gender identity and physical or mental disability — in the state’s ethnic-intimidation statute. But the state Supreme Court later struck down the expansion on a technicality.
State law currently covers hate crimes committed because of a victim’s race, color or religion.
On Monday, Frankel was joined by faith leaders, community leaders and fellow Democratic state legislators in calling for the addition of groups not currently covered under the law.
Frankel and other speakers were also deeply critical of President Donald Trump’s response after Charlottesville, with Frankel saying, “This administration seems to have given license to hate groups.”
While there were no Republican lawmakers on hand Monday, The Incline reached out to those GOP legislators heading the state House and state Senate Judiciary Committees where the hate crimes expansion bills touted by Frankel have sat since February.
A spokesperson for Rep. Ronald S. Marsico, R-Dauphin County, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, supported the scope of Pa.’s current hate crimes law but said Marsico was in the process of reviewing the House Bill being pursued by Frankel and other lawmakers on the heels of Charlottesville, “with possible changes.” It wasn’t immediately clear what those changes might be.
The office of Senator Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, chair of the state Senate judiciary Committee, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Across the aisle, the office of Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, who sits on the state Senate Judiciary Committee, told The Incline he remains a supporter of SB 96 and of the need to broaden Pennsylvania’s hate crimes law.
“Hate crimes are designed to terrorize, intimidate, and isolate, which allows bigotry to grow and flourish,” a statement from Leach’s office read. “Senator Leach supports SB 96 because it enables us as a society to bring these bullies to justice and show that Pennsylvania is united against their hateful message.”
Leach’s office also said that he has little idea when and if the bills will come out of committee and be put to a vote, explaining that the Republicans control both chambers of the state’s Congress along with the floor schedule.
If they do, the bills would have the support of Gov. Tom Wolf.
“The display of this outward hatred and bigotry just south of our borders is unsettling and must be met with action. We must no longer deny these basic protections to people facing threats and violence because of their ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity. A bipartisan group of legislators have supported legislation to protect Pennsylvanians from violence, and the time is now to pass these protections into law,” Wolf said today.
After the press conference, Frankel was asked how he felt about Confederate monuments and memorials in Pennsylvania or the controversial Stephen Foster statue in Oakland. He said there needed to be discussions about both, adding of Confederate memorials, “These were erected to intimidate people and to remind African Americans of their place in society.”
Frankel continued, “And if the Foster memorial is such a symbol, it needs to be addressed. There is no room for honoring people who promoted slavery, discrimination and, years later, Jim Crow.”