A bill that would expand Pennsylvania's law against ethnic intimidation to include crimes targeting people because of their sexual orientation and gender identity passed the state house of representatives on Tuesday night. The bill, which passed 118-79, goes to the desk of Gov. Mark S. Schweiker, who is expected to sign it.
The offense of ethnic intimidation is considered to have been committed if the perpetrator uses "malicious intention" in the act of such crimes as verbal harassment or destruction of property. The bill adds to the existing law the classes of ancestry, gender or gender identity, mental or physical disabilities, and sexual orientation. The bill also redefines the class of race to include "actual or perceived race." Currently included in the law are the classes of color, religion, and national origin.
While opponents decried the bill as restricting free speech, Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Philadelphia) said the bill "is about what thugs, hooligans, and murderers do. This bill is not about jokes that are offensive or tasteless."
The measure passed the senate last year, 32-15, but was stalled in the house for 17 months.
Proponents said Pennsylvania now has the most inclusive hate-crimes legislation in the country and hailed the bill's passage as a victory. "This is important and valuable," said Stephen A. Glassman, cochairman of the Statewide Pennsylvania Rights Coalition. "Pennsylvania needed to join more progressive states."
Stacey L. Sobel, Esq., executive director of the statewide Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights, said, “The Pennsylvania house of representatives did the right thing by passing this inclusive hate-crimes legislation.The legislators who voted for this bill stood up for their most vulnerable constituents and said we will not condone hate crimes in this state.”