New Utah hate crime bill essentially dead

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Senate Bill 72 may have gotten an early start, but that’s where it sat through the entire 2017 Utah Legislative Session. The bill, which would delineate hate crimes as those perpetuated because of the victim’s perceived “ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation,” was never even debated in committee — the first debate a bill sees on its road to becoming a law.

Sponsored by Sen. Daniel W. Thatcher, R-West Valley, the bill was the continuance of efforts at hate crime legislation reform by former Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George. He eschewed calling the bill a “hate crime” bill, however.

“That terminology is simply not accurate. It’s what people call it because it’s the closest reference that they have. But in reality we are recognizing that some people are more dangerous than other people,” he said at a press conference announcing the bill. He said the bill is about criminal justice, not social justice, though he said said specifically targeting someone because of who they are is unacceptable.

SB72, titled “Victim Selection Penalty Enhancements,” would have allowed prosecutors to seek a one-step increase for offenders convicted of a crime against a person or their property based on a belief or perception of the victim’s ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation. A class A misdemeanor, for example, could become a third-degree felony at the time of sentencing.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said at the press conference that the state’s current hate crime law is “woefully inadequate” and doesn’t protect anybody. There’s a lot of misunderstanding about what a hate crime law is, he said, adding that the proposal would protect Mormons the same way it would protect gay people.

“In some people’s minds who haven’t studied the issue, they see it as thought crime,” he said. “I think the relabeling it from Thatcher’s point of view is to really address the intent, which is the victim selection.”

Since the bill has not passed a Senate committee, it has no time in the next 48 hours to go through the process of becoming law.

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