House committee approves hate-crimes bill

House committee approves hate-crimes bill

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For the first time in five years, a bill to add LGBT protections to the state’s hate-crimes law moved forward in the state legislature.

The Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee brought House Bill 177 to a successful vote Monday morning.

The committee voted 19-4 in favor of passing the bill. The affirmative votes included both Democrats and Republicans, while the four “nays” were all Republicans: Reps. Bryan Culter (100th Dist.), Brian Ellis (11th Dist.), Rick Saccone (39th Dist.) and Todd Rock (90th Dist.).

As of presstime, the legislation had not been scheduled for a full House vote.

The legislation, proposed by Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170th Dist.), would expand the state’s current ethnic-intimidation law to include crimes based on actual or perceive sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as mental and physical disability; all classes were previously included but repealed on a technicality.

The effort to pass the measure has gained significant momentum since last month’s gay-bashing in Center City.

“Today’s passage of my legislation expanding Pennsylvania’s hate-crimes definition to include sexual orientation marks a historic turn in our commonwealth’s policies,” Boyle said after the vote. “The willingness of both Democratic and Republican leadership to come together in the wake of the tragic beatings in Philadelphia has pushed this important legislation a significant step closer to passage before session ends this year. We must now bring HB 177 up for a vote of the full membership and once and for all expand our hate-crimes law to ensure that all Pennsylvanians are afforded dignity, peace and security — regardless of race, sex, creed or sexual orientation.”

Rep. Dan Frankel (D-23rd Dist.) praised the committee’s decision.

“This is a positive first step in restoring protections for LGBT people, as well as people targeted because of their gender, ancestry or mental or physical disability,” he said. “I am pleased that the committee vote was so bipartisan, and I believe the bill would receive similar wide, bipartisan support if there is a vote in the full House, as there should be.”

Rep. Brian Sims (D-182nd Dist.) encouraged constituents to call for a vote in the House.

“Calls, emails, letters and visits from constituents to their state legislators have been crucial in helping this bill advance this far,” he said. “I thank urban, suburban and rural Pennsylvanians for making a difference by speaking up. Now let’s push for a vote by the full House.”

The bill is now clear to move to the House, where majority leader Rep. Mike Turzai (R-28th Dist.) will decide whether or not it is called up for a vote.

Currently, Senate Bill 42, the Senate version of the legislation — introduced by state Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-38th Dist.) — has yet to be called to vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-12th Dist.).

Greenleaf has also not scheduled any Senate Judiciary meetings from now until the end of session.

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th Dist.), minority chair of the committee and a sponsor of SB 42, said Greenleaf has complete control of when the committee meets.

“If the House is able to send the bill over to the Senate, there’s a chance we could rally and get it through. But with the number of session days remaining, the prospects are limited,” Leach said.

If the bill is unable to pass this session, Leach still has hope that it will move forward next session.

“It absolutely can pass next session. All the people that said ‘no’ to it this session will be held accountable.”

The House and Senate will be in session for a total of three more (non-consecutive) days in 2014, with the last on Nov. 12. 

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