SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – A bill that would create harsher penalties for those who commit provable hate crimes is one step closer to becoming a law.
The Utah Senate Judiciary, law enforcement, and Criminal Justice Standing Committee unanimously voted to move Senate Bill 103 forward for a Senate floor vote Thursday.
Bill sponsor Senator Daniel Thatcher said he feels the tremendous weight of so many people waiting on new hate crime legislation in our state.
“Today we have the opportunity to send a clear message that we will do better,” he said during the hearing.
After four years, he says he has support from the Attorney General’s Office, the Salt Lake County District Attorney, the ACLU of Utah, Equality Utah, Utah PTA, 23 different religious leaders, and many other groups.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill spoke at the hearing to show his support for the bill.
“I think we have a piece of legislation that can give us a balanced approach, which gives us the capacity to enhance those misdemeanors but also [serves] as an aggravating factor for the first time,” he said.
Three people opposed the legislation in the hearing saying there is a law dealing with hate crimes involving aggravating factors already in place and not to overlook it.
Former Utah lawmaker says LaVar Christensen was one of the people opposing the law.
“I would simply say, please if you think you need it to amend the current law, don’t skip over it and go off and rewrite the whole thing,” he said.
The Salt Lake District Attorney disputed Christensen’s remarks.
“To simply say ‘Now you can prosecute a felony, that ought to be enough’, that fully misses the point which is that a hate crime, or a victim selection bill targets you because you belong to a particular community is sending a message to that community and that town that it does not actually capture that terror,” he said.
Debra Coe with the State Suicide Prevention Coalition says she can’t remember the last time a hate crime was prosecuted at the fullest extent because the protections to society isn’t there.
“Hate crime is not just about attacking one person. It’s about attacking a whole community and it is about making that whole community feel welcome,” she said.
“Everybody is equal, everybody deserves equal protection, everybody belongs, we are all people, and we might have differences but that doesn’t matter,” Coe said.
Sen. Thatcher expects a very close vote when the Senate takes on SB 103.
You can track the status of the bill here.