When former Republican Senator Steve Urquhart of St. George announced that he would not be seeking another term last year, several organizations openly wondered who, if anyone, would carry the mantle for hate crimes legislation during the 2017 session after Urquhart had all but cemented his position as the standard bearer for such legislation.
[pullquote]Something is a bit different with Thatcher’s bill when compared to hate crimes legislation from last year – though it may not be exactly what supporters are looking for, the bill would still send a strong message that hate is not tolerated in the state.[/pullquote]After all, in 2013 Urquhart carried SB 262 – Employment and Housing Antidiscrimination Amendments; in 2014 he attempted a repeat with SB 100 – Antidiscrimination Amendments; in 2015, in an odd bit of coincidence, he would once again carry SB 100 – Antidiscrimination Amendments. All three pieces of legislation dealt with housing and employment discrimination. In some last minute dealing, Urquhart would sponsor and successfully pass SB 296 – Antidiscrimination and Religious Freedom Amendments as part of a grand compromise to end the blockade created by HB 322 – Religious Liberty Recognition and Protection Act from Representative LaVar Christensen (Republican – Draper) and former Representative (now Senator) Jake Anderegg‘s (Republican – Lehi) HJR 5 – Proposal to Amend Utah Constitution – Protection of Religious Rights.
Having claimed victory, in 2016 Urquhart would carry SB 107 – Hate Crimes Amendments, which was designed to enhance penalties for crimes committed when the victim is chosen specifically because they are, or because the perpetrator of the crime believes, that the individual is a certain of ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation.
SB 107 made it surprisingly far despite being run in conservative Utah and being fresh out of the gate; with Urquhart gone, momentum appeared to have come to a complete halt and supporters appeared adrift.
But Senator Dan Thatcher (Republican – West Valley City) has chosen to pick up the gauntlet with SB 72 – Victim Selection Penalty Enhancements – however, the name change alone should tell you that something is a bit different with Thatcher’s bill when compared to Urquhart’s.
Make no mistake, SB 72 is substantially similar to SB 107 from last year: it would still enhance crimes based on ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation. The bill would bump all crimes up one level if it could be proven that the defendant acted specifically against a person or property because of their protected class (more on that in a second). For example, a Class C misdemeanor would go to class B, a Class A misdemeanor would go to a third-degree felony, and a first-degree felony could have additional sentencing placed upon the individual.
But what is different is that Thatcher doesn’t go so far as to call such enhancements “hate crimes” per se, opting instead to just state that such crimes are subject to “enhanced penalties.” Furthermore, Thatcher’s legislation removes all mention of prosecuting attorney or grand juries from the equation when calling for enhancements. Finally, in what is perhaps the most interesting change, SB 72 specifically states that the legislation does not create protected classes outside of the confines of the enhancement laws. This means that (presuming perpetrator isn’t committing some other crime) individuals can still discriminate based on ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation in other situations.
Each of these changes will no doubt cause heartburn for past supporters of such legislation. But, in true sausage-making fashion, sometimes such compromises need to be made in order to push the ball forward. In a world where hate crimes are on the rise, the sad truth is that something provides more protection than nothing.
Hate crimes extend beyond the individual. As we noted last year, to quote Urquhart, what makes hate crimes different from a regular crime is that “when you single out someone because of characteristics, then really it is intended to be a crime against whomever is in that group…When a person commits a crime against ‘x,’ well, it isn’t just that person they singled out, it’s a group they went after.”
No, the legislation may not be exactly what supporters are looking for, but it would still send a strong message that hate is not tolerated in the state. Once something is on the books, lawmakers can return in coming years and beef up the law once they have grown comfortable with the important protections. As the proverb goes: half a loaf is better than none.
To contact Senator Thatcher, click here or call 801-759-4746 (Cell).
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