HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Jury selection began Monday, April 24, for the trial of a Pittsburgh-area man accused of killing 11 Jewish worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018, which is the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in US history. As the trial began, state lawmakers unveiled a set of bills aimed at better protecting people from hate crimes.

The Tree of Life massacre is a big motivator behind this package of bills, but people and lawmakers affected by the mass shooting made it clear that this is about every vulnerable community.

“My community is safer when every other community is safer,” said Democrat Rep. Dan Frankel. “We see what is clearly an epidemic of hatred.”

Frankel is one of the main sponsors of these bills, which would expand protections under existing laws to the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. The bills would also strengthen civil and criminal penalties, increase training for police and educators, encourage the anonymous reporting of hate-based incidents in schools, and provide a mechanism by which those convicted of hate crimes perform community service and complete courses related to the motivating factor for the crime.

“We need to make sure that people don’t normalize hatred, which I’ve seen happen in the last 10 years, we’ve kind of lifted up the lid on the Pandora’s box of hatred. It’s always been there, but now, just for some reason, and I think a lot of it has to do with the way some of our elected officials speak about these things and coddle hate groups. We’ve been normalizing this stuff, and we can’t tolerate that,” Frankel said.

Monday’s introduction of the bills came as jury selection was set to begin in the federal death penalty trial of 50-year-old Robert Bowers, the truck driver from a Pittsburg suburb who is accused of shooting to death 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh back in October 2018.

Bowers faces 63 counts, among them are 11 counts of obstruction of free exercise of religion resulting in death and 11 counts of hate crimes resulting in death.

Bowers’ lawyers recently said he has schizophrenia and other brain impairments.

For Frankel, this is personal. He represents Squirrel Hill, where the massacre happened.

“People want to know, what are you as an elected official, you and your colleagues, what are you going to do about this,” he said.

Frankel and fellow lawmakers were joined Monday by advocates as well as people impacted by the deadly 2018 shooting.

“My twin brother, Richard Gottfried, was killed,” Debi Salvin said. “It was a horrific incident.”

Salvin recalled her grandmother, who lived through Russian pogroms and the Holocaust, warning her about such an incident

“She said, ‘Don’t think for one minute that that couldn’t happen here,’ and I thought, ‘Oh we’ve evolved as society, I don’t see that happening here,’ and then it happened here,” Salvin said.

In the more than four years since Salvin lost her brother, she said things have only gotten worse.

“It just doesn’t seem to end, there’s so much hate out there,” she said. “It’s disheartening to think that people don’t think you have the right to exist.”

Salvin said that is why these bills are needed.

“If they don’t see the urgency to pass this legislation now, I don’t know what it would take,” she said.

Frankel said these bills have bipartisan support in the House, and he believes they will also have bipartisan support in the Senate. He is optimistic, and hopes the rising number of hate crimes pushes his colleagues to get this work done.