HARRISBURG (October 24, 2019) – As the anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting approaches, the Senate of Pennsylvania this week unanimously passed important legislation to address the safety and security needs of faith-based organizations and those with diverse memberships, state Senator Andy Dinniman said.
The measure, originally introduced by Dinniman as part of a larger initiative, establishes a $5 million Nonprofit Security Grant Fund to provide funding for safety and security improvements to facilities used by faith-based organizations. On Wednesday, it was successfully amended onto House Bill 859.
“One year ago, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in our nation’s history took place right here in Pennsylvania. Today, I hope we come together to support the freedom of worship and help ensure that our residents and their families can exercise that freedom safely and with peace of mind,” Dinniman said. “Regardless of faith or background, everyone deserves to feel safe in their place of worship.”
The proposed grant program, administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), would provide funding for security enhancements, including:
- Planning, threat awareness, and response training.
- Equipment and technology, such as metal detectors, lighting, surveillance, communications systems, locksets, deadbolts, trauma kits, and antitheft devices.
- Vulnerability and threat assessments.
- Specialty-trained canines.
- Other upgrades to existing structures that enhance safety and security.
Under the proposal, grant awards would range from a minimum of $5,000 to a maximum of $150,000. PCCD would select awardees in consultation with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and the Pennsylvania State Police.
House Bill 859 will now go back to the House for concurrence. Should it pass and be signed in to law, the Nonprofit Security Grant Fund would begin accepting applications in March.
On October 27, 2018, 11 people were killed and seven (including three police officers and the suspect) were injured in a mass shooting during Shabbat morning services at the Tree of Life Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Robert Gregory Bowers was arrested and is currently in custody facing state and federal capital murder charges. According to police, after his arrest, he told them that he “wanted all Jews to die.”
The Tree of Life shooting followed similar hate-based attacks that have injured and killed worshipers at churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and other houses of worship across the nation in recent years.