SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that attempted to enhance methods of prosecuting hate crimes failed to pass in the Utah Legislature.
After passing in the Senate Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, SB107 failed to pass in the Senate in a 17-11 vote.
When introducing the bill, sponsor Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, reminded the committee that he voted on such bills in the past. “I falsely believed that a crime is a crime. If a person paints a swastika on a synagogue, what’s the intent? Yes, it’s to make graffiti, but it’s also intimidation against the Jewish community,” Urquhart said.
This would have been a replacement to existing hate crime regulations. The current law does not specify the requirements needed to identify a hate crime, urging the prosecutors to raise the penalty for hate crimes.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill urged the committee to pass the law by explaining how useful the existing law is.
“We simply want a tool that is available to us so we can effectively address a measure of justice for our community,” Gill said.
Cliff Rosky, a law professor at University of Utah, further explained the existing law, saying misdemeanors are considered hate crimes by the law; thus, a homicide case does not meet the requirements to be considered a hate crime.
The bill met some objections, especially regarding the listed categories of protected classes mentioned in the bill.
“The list is getting so long that it is alphabetized,” said Laura Bunker, president of United Families International who opposed this bill.
The “bill’s list” included ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley, supported the bill and said that he does not believe it is “establishing special classes.”
Thatcher also said the reason for the support is because such a bill increases the threshold for getting convicted for a hate crime.
The categories created a “struggle” for Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, who voted against the bill, saying some classes are being left out.
“What I can’t get over in my mind is, if I’m targeted because I’m overweight, if I’m targeted because I’m a BYU fan, those would not be protected,” Weiler said.
Urquhart used the Mormon heritage to further the need for such a bill.
“Why are we here in this state? We’re here because Mormons were lynched. Mormons were murdered. Mormons were persecuted to chase them out of the state. It was not a crime against individual Mormons, it was crime against a religion,” Urquhart said.
Urquhart continued to explain how important this bill is, not only to Utah, but to America.
“This is the great debate of America. It’s over equality. It’s over what it means to be part of American society, what is the tapestry of this great nation,” Urquhart said. “Why do we pass criminal legislation? They’re on the books because there is behavior that is abhorrent, there is behavior that we do not deem acceptable in our society … if it happened, we want to punish it.”
Activists felt letdown by lawmakers, but said they will be working on the bill again next year to spread awareness of the importance of such a bill.