ST. GEORGE – Though it died in the Legislature last year, a new hate crimes bill is being sponsored by a state senator who hopes it will pass this year. However while the bill enhances penalties for someone who commits a crime against a certain group, the sponsor is not calling it a hate crimes bill, but rather a “victim selection” bill.
Republican Sen. Daniel Thatcher, of West Valley City, introduced the “Victims Selection Penalty Enhancements’ bill last week. Someone would come under the umbrella of the proposed enhancements “if the offender acted against an individual because of the offender’s perception of the individual’s ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation.”
If it can be proven in court that the offender targeted someone based on those qualities, prosecutors would seek to have the crime bumped up a degree. For example, a class A misdemeanor would become a third-degree felony.
“This entirely centers around whether or not you choose to use crime as a method of creating fear in people who share a characteristic,” Thatcher told Fox 13 News Friday.
Thatcher’s bill is similar to legislation proposed by former Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, during the 2016 legislative session. Urquhart’s bill passed the state Senate with Thatcher being a supporting vote.
However, Urquhart’s bill was not heard in the state House and also drew objections from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Reservations over the bill were evidently centered around the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under the law.
Thatcher first introduced a draft of the bill in the Legislature’s Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee last September.
During the committee meeting, Thatcher said his bill was not a hate crimes bill, but a “victim selection” bill, as it focuses more on the actions a potential offender takes against a certain group, and not someone’s thoughts, ideas and associations, which are protected under free speech.
“It’s not a crime to hate someone,” Thatcher said. “You can’t criminalize that.”
Language in the bill “states that the provisions do not affect an individual’s constitutional right of free speech or any other constitutional rights.”
The penalty enhancement would apply to all groups of people equally, Thatcher said, because there are people who will go out and seek to create terror among a specific group.
“We are not saying minorities,” Thatcher said. “We are saying that if you target someone’s race, it would absolutely apply. I would not have touched this bill if it did not offer the same level of protection to every single human being that sets foot in the state of Utah – whether you are White, whether you are Chinese.”
Equality Utah, an LGBTQ advocacy group, has expressed favor with Thatcher’s proposed legislation, according to Fox 13 News.
“We all agree that hate and violence is wrong. Unfortunately, Utah’s current hate crimes statute is woefully defective. It doesn’t protect anyone,” Equality Utah executive director Troy Williams told Fox 13 News. “We are grateful that the Statewide Association of Prosecutors is working closely with Sen. Thatcher to advance this important legislation.”
As with Urquhart’s bill last year, Thatcher’s proposal is likely to draw its share of opposition.
The Libertas Institute, a Utah-based libertarian think-tank, is among the groups that stands in opposition to the legislation.
“The motives involved in a crime are not important to the action itself,” the Libertas Institute states on its website. “Whether an assault was instigated by the aggressor’s jealousy, drunkenness, anger, or discriminatory ‘prejudice’ about the victim’s personal characteristics is immaterial. Taxpayers should not be required to subsidize higher incarceration rates in pursuit of misnamed ‘social justice.’”
The 2017 session of the Utah Legislature begins Jan. 23 and runs though March 9.
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