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A Bill To Strengthen Utah Hate Crimes Law Heads To House


West Valley Republican Sen. Daniel Thatcher's SB103 would allow a judge to enhance the penalties someone faces for committing a crime if they target a victim based on any number of personal attributes including their race, religion, sexual orientation, ancestry, gender identity or ethnicity. 

Prosecutors say Utah's current hate crimes statute, adopted in 1992, is unusable because it doesn't list those specific groups, but instead talks generally about crimes that deny a person their constitutional rights. 

Sen. Thatcher said that after years of attempts, he believed the time was right for the measure to pass.

"This year we've had more support than we've ever had before," he said. 

"With the clarifying statement from the LDS Church, with the public support from the governor, we have reached a tipping point where almost 70 percent of Utahns agree that this is a policy we need to move forward with."

During floor debate, another Republican lawmaker, Salt Lake Sen. Kirk Cullimore, tried to amend the bill to cover people from additional groups, especially those of a particular political persuasion. 

"I think across the country we've seen a number of stories lately where somebody may be targeted because of their political belief, or because they may be conservative, or because they're wearing a MAGA hat or because of particular thoughts that they have on a campus," he said.

"And so because of this I move that Amendment 1 be included to this - which adds creed or political belief."

Sen. Thatcher rejected that amendment saying that it would impact the legal scrutiny that had gone into crafting the language of SB103. A majority of senators agreed and Sen. Cullimore's amendment failed. 

Monday was the first time a hate crimes bill had been heard in the Utah Senate since a similar measure was defeated there in 2016. Logan Republican Sen. Lyle Hillyard said that while he initially struggled with the bill, he had since come to support it.

Freshman Democratic Sen. Derek Kitchen, Utah's only openly gay state lawmaker, spoke in favor of the bill. 

"I am a member of a community that happens to be targeted more frequently than others," he said. "Most of you likely are as well."

He appealed to the status of many members of the legislature who belong to one of the groups represented in the Sen. Thatcher's bill. More than 87 percent of the legislature are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"If you think about targeted groups, more often than not you're targeted because of your race or your religion - before, say, LGBTQ," he said. 

Last month, a lobbyist for Mormon Church explicitly said that the faith wasn't opposed to the legislation - something the church's silence in previous sessions had left in question.

In the senate on Monday afternoon, after half an hour of debate, Sen. Thatcher's bill cleared its first floor vote in that chamber on a 19-9 vote. 

SB103 has now advanced further than any hate crimes legislation has in recent years.