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Hate-crimes bill killed in Utah

Hate-crimes bill killed in Utah

A bill to increase criminal penalties for those convicted of crimes motivated by bias or prejudice was killed in a Utah house committee Friday. Some of the 90 minutes of testimony and debate focused on reminding lawmakers, many of whom are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that the murder of their founder Joseph Smith was itself a hate crime. The religious appeal didn't sway lawmakers on the law enforcement and criminal justice committee, who killed the bill on a 7-4 vote. The hate-crimes bill has now been defeated nine times, or 10 if you count a companion bill offered in the senate that was defeated last week by that body's judiciary committee. The house bill's sponsor, Democratic representative David Litvack of Salt Lake City, has unsuccessfully introduced the hate-crimes bill five times. Like others before him, Litvack has sponsored the measure in part at the behest of law enforcement and prosecutors who believe Utah's current law is vague and unenforceable. Litvack, who is Jewish, tried to move the committee emotionally Friday with stories of his childhood synagogues' desecration in Minnesota and with story of finding a woman who belongs to a local chapter of a national hate organization standing on his Salt Lake City front lawn this past fall holding a rock in her hand. His appeal fell flat, however, with Rep. Curt Oda, who said he was taught that one finds prejudice only when looking for it. Oda said he felt hate-crimes legislation would only further divide the community. Lawmakers have consistently argued against the bill, saying that they object to enhancement laws and specifically to hate-crimes laws because they create special protections in law for some classes or groups of citizens. The bill includes a list of defined groups, including age, ancestry, disability, gender, national origin race, religion, and sexual orientation. Legislators in both houses of government have privately said the bill would pass if sexual orientation were dropped from the list. Most of the state's lawmakers are members of the LDS church, which teaches that homosexuality is a sin.

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