With song, thanks of joy, and promises of better days ahead for all Utahns, the state’s new anti-hate crimes bill was signed by Gov. Gary Herbert in a standing-room-only ceremony in the Capitol’s Rotunda Tuesday afternoon.
Considering how long and difficult this road was for many legislators and Herbert, it’s a wonder how relatively-easily SB103 finally passed in the 2019 Legislature.
The law, after a person is convicted of a physical crime, allows a judge to increase the sentence by one degree – from a 3rd-degree felony, for example, to a 2nd degree – if the criminal expressed hatred of a protected class during the attack.
But the big political gorilla in the room – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – wasn’t mentioned directly in the hour-long ceremony Tuesday.
Yes, the church was represented in the Rotunda, and Marty Stephens, the church’s relatively-new government affairs officer, was thanked by name by at least one speaker.
But SB103 sponsor, Sen. Dan Thatcher, R-Taylorsville, didn’t have a lot of hope that his hate crimes bill this year would fare any better than over the last two years – it not even debated on the Senate floor – until Stephens announced publicly before the session began that church leaders were not opposed to it being considered in 2019.
That broke the legislative political log jam.
And the hate crimes bill flowed slowly – but consistantly – toward passage over the next 45 days.
A lot of people were thanked at the ceremony, with Thatcher choking up at one point before saying his “badass” wife really helped him during the ordeal of SB103’s legislative trip.
A few other quotes:
“If I had my heart’s wish,” said Herbert, “We wouldn’t be talking about hate crimes at all.” There would be no hate in the world.
“And we would love one another as the Bible teaches. The passage of SB103 sends a message, that every person, individual, is worthy of respect and love.”
Thatcher: “Four years ago I was on the wrong side of this issue.” Then-Sen. Steve Urquhart was running hate crimes reform and, over time, Urquhart, who attended Tuesday’s signing, prodded him to the point “where I got it.”
As others inside and outside of the Legislature “got it” on the hate crimes issue, it was “beautiful” to see, said Thatcher.
Working through hate crimes legislation, year after year, made Thatcher “a better ally” to the cause, “a better advocate, a better senator and a better man.”
Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, said while he supported Thatcher’s attempts last year, as he was talking to Thatcher before the 2019 session on who should be the House sponsor of SB103, “something came to me, a higher power, saying: ‘Lee, you have to do this.’”
He said a cousin who had “an alternative lifestyle” was beaten by boys over that issue. And other close members of his family are people of color and they, too, should always feel safe and welcomed.
= Episcopalian Bishop Scott Hayashi said hate crimes are a challenge by God to do better. “For we are all made in God’s image.”
= Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, is the only Jewish member of the Legislature. She said Utah Jews felt attacked when a man fired three shots into her synagogue building’s outside wall – only to find that the old state hate crimes law couldn’t be enforced, and the man had to be tried in federal court for the crime.
“Now with SB103 we are protected by our own state law,” she said to applause by the crowd.
= Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake, the only openly gay legislator, said several of his friends of the gay community were recently attacked in a homophobic videoed-captured act.
“There were two victims,” his friend and the community they represent. Now, something can be done about it, he added.
The categories protected in the bill are:
= age; ancestry; disability;ethnicity; familial status; gender identity; homelessness; marital status; matriculation; national origin; political expression; race; religion; sex; sexual orientation; service in the U.S. Armed Forces; status as an emergency responder.
SB103 will take effect May 14, 60 days after adjournment of the general session. It did ultimately pass by two-thirds votes in both the House and Senate, however the bill itself didn’t say it would take effect upon gubernatorial signing.
The bill didn’t pass by two-thirds upon its first votes in the Senate.
But the House amended the bill to include “political expression,” which means if a Democrat or Republican or anyone else were attacked for their political speech or expression, then SB103 would apply when their attackers were sentenced.
And that got a few more votes from senators upon the final passed of the amended bill.
Perry and Arent, who were counting votes in favor of SB103 in the House, thought they only had 38 (a majority), or maybe 40 votes.
But when the “ayes” came in over 60, they were stunned, and realized that many fence-sitters were touched by the House floor debate and decided to change their votes at the last second.
House members “listened with their hearts and minds” and decided to protect hate crime victims, said Arent.