SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – New hate crimes legislation is set to hit the Senate floor as early as this week and it’s gaining wide support from over 30 diverse groups and organizations in Utah.
Today these groups along with law enforcement agencies showed their support for SB 107 and SJR 13, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Urquhart. His message today, “Utah’s hate crimes law is broken and now is the time to fix it.”
Just how broken is Utah’s hate crimes law? According to law enforcement there have been 1,279 hate crimes committed in the state over the last 20 years. Since Utah adopted a hate crimes law in 1992, it has been a step forward, but the law has yet to actually lead to a conviction because it doesn’t define what a hate crime is or mention specific characteristics.
“If you punch someone under this law that can be considered a hate crime, but if you kill them it can’t be a hate crime – that just doesn’t make sense,” says University of Utah Constitutional Law Professor Cliff Rosky.
That is why Sen. Urquhart is introducing a bill to clear up the law.
“What a crime is under our statute. There are two elements under every crime. You have an act and you have mental intent and so some people say, ‘look, we’re punishing thought here,’ mental intent is part of every crime. That’s what I want people to understand,…There’s two mental intents going on to assault this individual to commit an act against this individual, but, also an intent to go after a certain community so those are two mental intents that are going on. An act that accomplishes both of those intents so, that’s one thing that I would like to emphasize, this is no different than the rest of the criminal statute. This is something we need so that when someone goes after a specific victim – but also a community to which that victim belong that we punish both crimes.” says Urquhart.
These amendments would define what a hate crime is and its penalties but it also protects comments and associations for both victims and defendants that don’t relate to the crime.
“There’s specific language in a joint resolution that constrains type of evidence that can be introduced against a defendant,” says Rosky.
‘The beauty of this law is that it recognizes the dignity of every person, it recognizes that we as a matter of public policy offer the same shelter of support regardless of who you are as a person, if you’re injured in this way, we as a matter of public policy will not tolerate this in any way in our community,” says Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill.
According to Equality Utah 48% of hate crimes in the state are racially motivated. 20% target someone’s faith and only 15% target someone’s sexual orientation.
“This is a law that impacts everybody. Most of us have a sexual orientation, we all have a race, many of us belong to communities of faith and this law will protect all Utahns,” says Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams.
Which is why more than 30 diverse organizations including racial and ethnic groups along with law enforcement have come together to show their support for this bill.
But, this afternoon the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints responded to the hate crimes law saying: “The Utah Legislature achieved something extraordinary last year in arriving at legislation that protected both religious liberty rights and LGBT rights. Interests from both ends of the political spectrum area attempting to alter that balance. We believe that the careful balance achieved through being fair to all should be maintained.”
“This is not about creating specific rights for any one particular group,’ says Gill, ‘this is really about all of us as citizens, as public prosecutors, when crimes like this are perpetrated, law enforcement prosecution doesn’t look to say, ‘Oh, we’re only gonna give this remedy to you,’ we look at the injury that’s been done in the community.”
While the bill passed committee last week it didn’t go without a few concerns.
“Folks who spoke against this, I think fear is an opposition, I think status quo is an opposition, I think misunderstanding is an opposition, a lot of misunderstanding. That’s why I want to point out just like any other crime, just like any other enhancement there’s a specific act and a specific intent that we’re punishing,” says Sen. Urquhart.
Supports and legislatures of the bill are expressing strong optimism as the bill will head to the Senate floor as early as this week.