Pennsylvania governor Mark Schweiker signed a bill Tuesday expanding the law against ethnic intimidation to cover actions targeting those on the basis of their sexual orientation and physical disabilities, among other characteristics. "Since 1995, this administration has worked tirelessly to fight crime and support the rights of crime victims," Schweiker said in a statement. The legislation, he said, sends a "strong, clear message that Pennsylvania will not tolerate violence against anyone." While opponents decried the bill as being ill-defined or restricting free speech, proponents said that it is similar to laws passed elsewhere in the country and that it is only invoked when a crime is committed.
The offense of ethnic intimidation is committed if someone uses "malicious intention" in the act of crimes such as verbal harassment or property destruction. The new bill adds to the scope of ethnic intimidation the characteristics of ancestry, gender or gender identity, mental or physical disabilities, and sexual orientation. The bill also changes "race" to "actual or perceived race." Characteristics previously included are color, religion, and national origin. The measure passed the senate last year, 32-15, and remained in the house for 17 months before it passed in late November, 118-79.
"Pennsylvanians should be proud of the many elected officials who took a stand against violence and hatred in this state," said Stacey L. Sobel, executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Civil Rights in Philadelphia. Proponents say Pennsylvania now has the most inclusive such legislation in the country.