State senator wants hate crimes law as top priority
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HARRISBURG -- Attack someone because of their skin color, religion or national origin and it's considered a hate crime, which can warrant additional charges in Pennsylvania.
Attack the same person because of ancestry, disability, sexual orientation or gender and it isn't.
State Sen. Jim Ferlo, D-Highland Park, wants to change that by increasing the list of protected classes. Now.
He's asking fellow lawmakers in both chambers to make that their first order of business in the legislative session, which begins Jan. 6.
"Hate crimes," Mr. Ferlo said, "can often be far more violent than typical crimes and attempt to dehumanize victims. By grading these offenses more strictly, I hope we can further discourage crimes based on hate as we continue to grow into a more open and accepting society."
The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented more than 70 hate groups in Pennsylvania alone.
Ancestry, disability, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity used to be protected classes under a 2002 state hate-crimes law that was struck down for procedural reasons, Mr. Ferlo said.
"We have a moral and ethical obligation to step up and re-enact this important set of protections," he said.
Hate-crime laws allow the state to treat certain offenses more seriously when they motivated by hatred toward a protected class. In Pennsylvania, those crimes include harassment, assault, murder, trespass, criminal mischief and arson.
Hate crime has been a hot-button issue in Pennsylvania.
Conservative groups have been fighting to keep gays from being a protected class since at least 2005, when an evangelist and four followers were arrested on charges of ethnic intimidation after they disrupted a Philadelphia gay pride event.
First Published December 31, 2008 12:00 am