Pa. lawmakers try again to expand protections from hate crimes

A move  in the Pennsylvania House to expand protections under the state's law against hate crimes is again meeting opposition. (AP file photo)

A move in the Pennsylvania House to expand protections under the state's law against hate crimes is again meeting opposition. (AP file photo)

Pennsylvania’s law against hate crimes protects people on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. But it doesn’t include several other categories — including ancestry, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.

Some lawmakers have been trying to change that — but not everyone is in agreement

The commonwealth’s hate-crimes law didn’t always exclude protections for sexual orientation, disabilities, or gender identity. From 2002 to 2008, it protected an expanded number of groups.

But then it was declared unconstitutional for violating the state’s one-subject rule — a technicality.

Despite multiple attempts, lawmakers still haven’t been able to reinstate the protections.

State Rep. Kevin Boyle, D-Montgomery, has sponsored a House bill that would do so, but he said it’s been thwarted repeatedly by the same people.

“Too often, it’s my chamber,” he said. “Obviously I’m a House Democrat, but it’s the House Republican caucus — specifically about those two dozen hardcore conservatives.”

Boyle singled out Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, who chairs the House State Government Committee and has opposed expanded protections in the past.

For instance, an LGBT nondiscrimination bill stalled in his committee — in part because Metcalfe disliked provisions that would let people use the bathroom that matches their gender identity.

Metcalfe didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, a Democrat, called the current hate-crimes law an embarrassment, and he said he fears it sends the wrong message to people outside the state.

“You should be worried that Pennsylvania being a civil rights backwater could hurt our efforts to attract jobs to this state,” he said. “Not just for this century, but forever.”

Boyle acknowledged crimes against all groups are already punished under other laws.

But he said it’s important to make protections against hate crimes clear to show where Pennsylvania stands.

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