Update: Strength in numbers — Hate crimes bill to return in 2018 Utah legislative session

The Salt Lake City Council and Mayor Jackie Biskupski approved a resolution Tuesday night to urge Utah lawmakers to beef up the law addressing crimes that target people because of their race, religion or sexual orientation.

“When a criminal deliberately targets a victim because of ancestry, disability, ethnicity, sex, gender identity, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation to deprive them of their unalienable right to life, liberty, property or to pursue happiness, other members of that community are deeply affected as is society as a whole,” the city’s resolution stated.

Salt Lake City has joined West Jordan, South Salt Lake, Beaver County, Moab and Midvale in the movement to support a bill Senator Daniel Thatcher is sponsoring in the 2018 session that would give law enforcement stronger tools to address crimes that target specific groups.

It won’t be Thatcher’s first attempt to ensure protections for LGBT and other groups. He introduced the measure after lawmakers in 2016 voted down another Republican senator’s controversial hate crimes bill, and it was met with strong opposition by the Church of Latter-day Saints. Then last year, without any involvement from the Church, legislative leaders didn’t allow a public hearing on a similar bill.

With hate crimes on an incline, Thatcher is now urging the LDS Church to officially clarify its position before the 2018 legislative session.

“They had no position last year either, and yet there’s no shortage of people who are happy to speak on behalf of the church in the absence of an official statement from them,” Thatcher recently told Salt Lake Tribune. “So while I believe going from opposition to no comment is and of itself a position, the problem is as long as they continue to say, ‘We have no position,’ there will be plenty of people who are willing to tell you what the church’s position is. It wouldn’t be accurate, but that won’t stop them.”

Troy Williams, executive director of the Equality Utah, said it was “so encouraging” to see Salt Lake City join the effort.

“There is widespread support throughout the state to consider this legislation because it protects and includes everybody,” Williams told KSL News. “We all have a sexual orientation. We all have a gender identity. We all have a race. Many of us belong to communities of faith. And this legislation truly strikes a balance to make sure all Utahns are protected when they are targeted for who they are.”

Williams noted that in the past 20 years, not one prosecution has come from Utah’s current statute. “It’s broken. It’s not working. It is not bringing justice to victims,” he said.

While it’s uncertain whether lawmakers will be receptive to Thatcher’s bill, Williams said, “We have to persuade them to take up this issue, and we’re going to keep coming back every year until it’s passed.”

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