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Each legislative session thousands of bills and amendments are introduced in the Pennsylvania Legislature. Only a fraction become law, and an even smaller portion receive wide media coverage.

These bills impact the lives of people living in Pennsylvania every day.

Each week The Sentinel will highlight one bill that has not received widespread attention.

About the bill

In Pennsylvania, it is a misdemeanor offense to commit a crime such as assault or making terroristic threats against another person “with malicious intention toward the race, color, religion or national origin."

In 2002, the Legislature amended the law to include “ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity.”

That language, however, was ruled unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court because the way the law was amended did not follow proper legislative procedures.

Sen. Lawrence M. Farnese Jr., D-Philadelphia, and Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Delaware County, have introduced a bill they hope will remedy that problem.

“Hate crime laws demonstrate a society’s commitment to confront and deter criminal acts motivated by prejudice,” the two wrote in a co-sponsorship letter. “Since Act 143 of 2002 was declared unconstitutional, too many Pennsylvanians have been the victims of hate crimes, including the two young gay men who were brutally attacked by a group of men and women in Center City Philadelphia in 2014. These men and others have not been able to seek a sentencing enhancement, despite the egregious nature of their attacks.”

Senate Bill 96 would change the title of the law from “ethnic intimidation” to “unlawful intimidation” and extend protections to include “ancestry, mental or physical disability, sexual orientation, gender or gender identity” on top of those already covered.

The bill would also expand the language to cover “real or perceived” traits.Eight people have been charged with ethnic intimidation in Cumberland County since 2010, according to court records.

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