HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Democratic lawmakers in the state House and Senate have introduced a legislative package designed to strengthen the state’s hate crime laws.

The bills would increase civil and criminal penalties for hate crimes, train police officers to investigate, identify and report hate crimes, and allow the attorney general the option of investigating those crimes.

There were almost 8,500 hate crimes reported in the United States in 2017, a 17% increase.

There are currently more than a thousand hate groups across the country. The legislation would also establish a hate group database.

“Acts of hate are growing throughout the world. We have to be more cognizant, and we have to be more aggressive in stopping these hate crimes,” said Hank Butler, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition. “These are good, strong bills, and we do think we can get them to the governor’s desk.”

The bills have already gained some bipartisan support, and Republican lawmakers say they look forward to working on them.

“The intent of the bills’ authors is a noble one, and it is an important conversation our members are more than willing to take part in,” House Republican caucus spokesman Mike Straub said. “The details of the bills are still being worked out, and we look forward to addressing any concerns in the committee process.”