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Pa. Lawmakers Introduce Legislation To Strengthen Hate Crime Laws

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa Jr., Rep. Dan Frankel and Rep. Ed Gainey unveiled a new bill to strengthen hate crime laws Thursday.

For Joe Charny, it feels like yesterday.

"I saw his gun come up, and at that point, I looked around and there was already one body," he said.

Charny escaped the shooting inside the Tree of Life synagogue in October with Rabbi Jeffrey Myers. He listened to Rabbi Myers Thursday as legislation to combat hate crimes was laid out.

"You know, it sort of saddens me that we have to create legislation against, as I call them, 'H crimes,'" Myers said.

But Gainey says the times dictate the action.

"We have an obligation to protect our people at all times, all people. We should live free of hate, and that's why these bills are so important," Gainey said.

WATCH: Press Conference to Introduce Legislation To Strengthen Hate Crime Laws --


The proposals would, among other things, allow the Pennsylvania Attorney General to get involved in cases immediately and create a hate group database.

"In Pennsylvania, we have in excess of 150 [hate groups]. We need to do a better job of understanding how many there are, what they're up to, and we need to provide resources along those lines to be able to address that," Costa said.

Frankel says the bills will also help head off issues.

"This package would both educate police officers to properly identify hate crimes and make it easier for college students, in particular, to report them anonymously," Frankel said.

Several survivors of the Tree of Life attack were there for Thursday's announcement.

"I think it's great. I think they're taking action and that's important. They mean business," Andrea Wedner said.

Wedner was shot and lost her mom, Rose Mallinger, in the shooting.

"It's effected everybody, and they're finally doing something about it," Wedner said.

Survivor Barry Werber says the legislation is a start but the answer won't come "until you have some control over the weapons that are being used in the hate crimes."

Watch John Shumway's interview with Werber, who recently stepped inside the synagogue for the first time since October --


Costa agrees the group of bills won't wipe out hate crimes, but he says they will increase information for investigators to help anticipate crimes.

Charny says the answer is healing the hate in hearts.

"It's not going to come because of pieces of paper," he said.

The sponsoring legislators are collecting co-sponsors and will introduce the packet of bills in early June.

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