SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – A bill years in the making is officially on its way to Governor Gary Herbert’s office.
Wednesday, the Utah Senate gave final legislative approval to the bill to enhance criminal penalties for those convicted of hate crimes.
It made for a historic day on Utah’s Capitol Hill.
“This year things just clicked. This year things just came together,” said Senator Daniel Thatcher, (R) West Valley.
A hate crimes bill that stalled year after year gets final legislative approval.
Hugs and high emotions followed the 22-3 vote in the Senate.
“I was trying not to get too excited until we crossed the finish line, but we just crossed the finish line and so I think now is the time for a little celebration,” said Thatcher.
The bill creates an enhanced penalty for those convicted of targeting a victim based on race, religion, sexual orientation, military service and other protected categories.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill has been waiting a long time for that opportunity.
“I get emotional about it because there’s a lot of people who I’ve had to meet with, and a lot of people in our community who have been impacted by this, and that we have not been able to make progress in it and not give them a measure of justice,” said Gill.
The bill was amended in the House to include political expression as a category.
Senator Luz Escamilla spoke in opposition to that but says the bill is too important to let it stand in the way.
“In my district, there’s been a couple of incidents that have targeted a specific community based on their national origin, in this case from being from the country of Mexico. I think that does send a chilling message when that happens,” said Escamilla, (D) Salt Lake City.
Now, another message from the state of increased penalties.
Senator Thatcher says it wouldn’t have happened without the efforts of those who went before him.
“How do you not recognize Senator Urquhart, he’s who got me started on this, but before him, David Litvack worked on this, Pete Suazo worked on this,” he said.
Governor Herbert has already said he will sign the bill. He says it will provide critical protections to Utah residents.