Hate-crimes bill nears a victory in the Senate
A major compromise last week in Utah’s House of Representatives positions a bill that enhances the criminal penalty for committing a hate crime to pass the Legislature.
The Senate hadn’t weighed in by Tuesday afternoon but Rep. Ross Romero, a Salt Lake Democrat who represents portions of Snyderville, says state lawmakers have already taken too long to adopt a hate-crime statute.
"The more bills that we pass that seem to highlight or accentuate Utah’s cloistered culture undermine our state’s efforts at economic advancement and economic opportunities in attracting new business," Romero said. "Intolerance and abuse is not permissible to individuals of a particular group or who are perceived to be a part of a group."
With a 67-5 vote, the House passed a bill last week that recognizes hate crimes and allows stiffer sentences for the offenses.
"The lack of passing a hate-crime bill, I think, sends a message to visitors to our state, and those looking to do business in our state, that perhaps we’re not as welcoming to outside communities," Romero said. "I think it will pass the Senate."
Lawmakers for years have unsuccessfully sponsored hate-crime bills that opponents have claimed provided special rights for some segments of society. Rep. David Litvack, a Salt Lake Democrat who sponsored House Bill 90, has garnered broader support this year by not specifically identifying groups that could be victimized by hate crimes.
"But at the end of the day, those who commit hate crimes are going to be held accountable," Litvack said Monday.
Instead of identifying homosexuals, ethnic minorities or members of religious groups as potential hate-crime victims, the version of HB 90 passed Feb. 23 by the House states that someone could be guilty of a hate crime if their actions "intimidate or terrorize" a person "to reasonably fear to freely exercise or enjoy any right secured by the Constitution."
"The hate crimes bill isn’t that progressive of an idea so I was frustrated that it has taken as long as it has to go through," Romero said, adding that the Utah Attorney General’s Office endorsed the legislation.
Meanwhile, Summit County Rep. David Ure, a Republican from Kamas, who has opposed hate-crime legislation in the past, also supported the bill.
Removing the list of potential victims from the bill "puts the authority back with the judiciary," Ure said.
Stiffer penalties can be administered if prosecutors prove hate-related "aggravating circumstances" influenced the crime, he added.
"It took away the groups and the lists," Ure said, adding that past incarnations of the bill did not recognize that many crimes aren’t induced by hate. "I think it should [pass] let’s get it behind us."
But Republican Sen. Allen Christensen, who represents much of eastern Summit County, wasn’t sure Tuesday whether HB 90 would receive a vote in the Senate.
Lawmakers have until midnight March 1 to vote on legislation before the general session ends.
"I think I would be inclined to vote favorably on it," said Christensen, who has opposed hate-crime legislation in the past. "I felt like it was just setting up individual groups as getting preferred or special treatment."
Salt Lake Democratic Rep. Duane Bourdeaux, Utah’s only black lawmaker, this week recalled an incident when somebody painted a swastika on his brother’s driveway in Sandy. The First Amendment doesn’t allow people to commit hate crimes, he added.
"It’s long overdue," Bourdeaux said about HB 90. "People that want to perpetrate these kinds of crimes will be held accountable."
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