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Hate crimes bill passes a critical vote in the Utah State Senate

Posted at 3:13 PM, Mar 04, 2019

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah State Senate has passed a bill that would expand the state's hate crimes laws.

The Senate voted 19-9 to pass Senate Bill 103 after an emotional debate.

"This year we had more support than we’ve ever had before," said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City. "With the clarifying statement from the LDS Church, with the public support from the governor. We have reached a tipping point where almost 70% of Utahns agree this is a policy we need to move forward with."

After years of failing to get anywhere in the Utah State Legislature, Monday's vote is the furthest the bill has ever gotten. The bill still faces one more procedural vote in the Senate and, if it passes there, goes on to the House for consideration.

Senate Bill 103, sponsored by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, would enhance penalties when people are targeted for a particular category like race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability or gender identity. It was amended to include a number of other categories including homelessness, matriculation, service in the military and law enforcement.

Those amendments were included to win over previous opponents of the bill. But the bill was almost amended again by Sen. Kirk Cullimore, R-Sandy, who wanted to add "creed" and "political beliefs" to the list of protected classes.

"Across the country we’ve seen a number of stories lately where somebody may be targeted because of their political beliefs where they may be targeted because they’re conservative or wearing a MAGA hat," he told the Senate.

Senators rejected his amendment in a voice vote.

During Monday's debate, some lawmakers stood to announce their support where they previously resisted the bill. Others shared personal stories. Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, spoke about being called a "f----t" and his husband facing hate for being Middle Eastern and Muslim. Their restaurant recently had an LGBTQ pride flag vandalized.

"When you are targeted not because of what you’ve done but because of who you are, that creates two victims," Sen. Kitchen said. "You as the individual that’s targeted but also the community you represent."

Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, spoke about crimes targeting the Latino community and trying to assure her young daughter she is safe.

"I had to explain to my children they are safe. The irony is, I didn’t feel safe myself," she said, her voice choking with emotion.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said he objected to the bill because of concerns about undoing criminal justice reform efforts the legislature recently approved.

"This bill, while well intended, is volatile to the principles we agreed to as a body, i.e., increased incarceration does not treat the offender," he said.

The bill has faced a long path in the Utah State Legislature. For years, it was never considered. Last month, Sen. Thatcher told FOX 13 he feared the bill would stall on Capitol Hill, then he persuaded Senate Republicans to give it a hearing. It passed out of committee unanimously.

The bill had support from a number of religious organizations including the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a powerful influence on Capitol Hill, previously told FOX 13 it would not oppose the bill, even with the inclusion of LGBTQ people in the protected categories (a past sticking point).