Senate advances hate crimes bill

Utah Capitol 12

By a 19-9 vote the Utah Senate passed Monday a hate crimes bill that actually may work.

SB103 – which is a sentencing enhancement measure – now goes to the House where it’s future is uncertain.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley, got a new lease on life for his four-year battle over hate crimes in January when a lobbyist for the LDS Church said Church leaders didn’t oppose the debating of a hate-crimes-like measure this session.

Several years ago, after leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other civic and religious leaders in the state agreed on a new law protecting LGBTQ folks in employment and housing, LDS leaders asked that there be a cooling off period – and that hate crimes bills not be considered or passed by the Legislature for several years.

And so Thatcher and his supporters realized that any kind of measure that could be considered hate crimes wasn’t going far in a general session.

But with the LDS Church’s government affairs officer making his statement earlier this year, Thatcher’s hope sprung anew.

Even at noon Monday, Thatcher told that he hoped his bill would get preliminary approval Monday afternoon, he wasn’t sure.

The 19 yea votes likely ensures SB103 will pass the Senate on Tuesday. It takes 15 votes to pass the 29-member body.

Before getting that 19-vote victory, however, senators voted down an amendment that would have added “creed” and “political” to the list of circumstances that could be considered by a judge in sentencing a person for an act against another – generally seen as a hate crime.

Key to Thatcher’s success is that SB103 is a sentencing enhancement measure.

First, the person must be convicted, or plead guilty, to the actual assault, murder, or other violent act.

Then, if in committing that act, the person’s actions – not his mindset – proves he is committing the act against a protected person or class, then the judge can bump up the sentence one degree – like from a 2nd-degree felony to a 1st-degree felony.

Thus the criminal receives a longer jail or prison time.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Bountiful, said he’s been against some of the previous hate crime bills of the past because as part of that crime the prosecutor had to “get into the head” of the criminal and prove he was committing the crime BECAUSE he hated the victim, his race, religion, sexual preference, or another list of characteristics.

Not so under SB103, said Weiler, an attorney.

After conviction, before sentencing, if the criminal at the time of the attack was heard to yell, “I want to kill Mexicans,” then that statement could be used in court by the judge to enhance the sentence of the violent offender.

There are only seven working days left in the session, and SB103 still must get a House committee hearing before votes in that body.

Lawmakers adjourn midnight next Thursday.