Hate Crimes Legislation Could Be in Trouble
A proposal to strengthen Utah’s hate crimes statute is struggling to garner support from Republican lawmakers, despite signals from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that it would not oppose the legislation this year.
“There doesn’t appear to be enough votes,” Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said Friday.
Adams said he personally supports the legislation, which would stiffen penalties for individuals who commit crimes based on a person's race, religion, sexual orientation or other factors.
“However, I’ve found out that me being fine with it doesn’t mean the rest of the [Senate GOP] caucus is,” he said.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, has unsuccessfully run the legislation for the past several years. He said after increased media attention and public pressure, he planned to bring the bill before his Republican colleagues on Tuesday.
“If the votes are where I think we are, we’ll get the thumbs up on Tuesday. It’ll go to committee, I expect it to have tremendous support in committee. It will be closer on the floor, but I believe it will still pass,” Thatcher said.
The Senate’s six Democrats would support the bill, said Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City.
“This is an important bill to our constituents and to myself personally,” Kitchen said.
The Democrat recounted an incident earlier this week in which a pride flag hanging outside the restaurant he and his husband own was vandalized.
Sens. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, did not say whether he supported Thatcher’s bill, but said he had concerns about “creating selected classes.”
“I think it needs to be broad. There’s a lot of hate crimes, let’s make sure we have a bill that covers all of them,” Stevenson said.
Earlier this year the LDS Church’s chief lobbyist Marty Stephens told multiple media outlets that the church is “not opposed to a hate crimes piece of legislation.”
Prosecutors including Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill have complained that Utah’s current hate crimes law is unenforceable.