Cities and counties call for Utah Legislature to enact stronger hate crime laws

Utah passed hate crime legislation in 1992 after years of debate and successful attempts to water the law down.

“Incredibly, our state’s law doesn’t even mention the words ‘bias’ or ‘prejudice.’ It also doesn’t mention ‘race,’ ‘sexual orientation,’ or ‘gender identity,'” wrote Equality Utah in a statement. “Only misdemeanors can be prosecuted as hate crimes.”

Even more incredible, the group says, is that no one in Utah has ever been convicted of a hate crime.

No one.

During the 20 years since the law passed, Utah law enforcement agencies reported 1,279 hate crimes, Equality Utah points out.

Seven cities and counties and three criminal justice organizations have passed resolutions calling on state lawmakers to pass meaningful hate crime legislation.

These cities include Midvale, Moab, West Jordan, West Valley City, Beaver County, Salt Lake City, and Salt Lake County. Organizations include the Utah Sheriff’s Association, Statewide Association of Prosecutors, and Utah Law Enforcement Legislative Council.

The Salt Lake Tribune also called for stricter laws in its editorial pages.

“State prosecutors need a tool to prosecute hate crimes. We don’t criminalize thought in America. But when hateful thought turns to hateful violence, criminals should be punished. Utah law should be strong enough to deter such activity and protect minority populations against hate crimes,” they wrote. “To hurt one person in a way that threatens others like them is what terrorists do. We don’t want terrorists in Utah.”

Salt Lake City’s resolution explains why hate crime legislation is essential.

“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.”

They, therefore, call on the Utah Legislature to pass more meaningful legislation.

“Stronger tools to address crime in which the offender targets victims can assist law enforcement in building better relations and trust within communities, and more appropriately punish the people who commit these vicious acts.”

Sen. Daniel Thatcher is pushing his bill forward again this year. Senate Bill 86, titled, “Victim Targeting Penalty Enhancements,” provides for an “enhanced penalty for a criminal offense if the offender acted against an individual because of the offender’s perception of the individual’s ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation.”

Penalties under this bill would be increased by one level if a misdemeanor and would impose minimum sentencing if a felony.

Thatcher’s attempt last year failed to even get a public hearing.

“Last year, we didn’t have the policy conversation,” he said as West Jordan was discussing its resolution. “Last year, the argument was made that there’s no interest in this issue. Well, I think cities and counties can help us settle that argument. I believe there is interest in this issue. I believe our cities and counties can help us make that clear.”

Thatcher is a Republican senator representing Salt Lake and Tooele Counties.

A thorough write-up of hate crime legislation is on the Equality Utah website at equalityutah.org/issues/hatecrimes

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