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Utah hate-crimes
bill gets cool reception

Utah hate-crimes
bill gets cool reception

A Utah hate-crimes bill that would eliminate victim categories has drawn a cool reception. Democratic representative David Litvack, a longtime sponsor of what has become a perennial measure, said he has been considering offering a bill that would replace the penalty enhancement called for in past bills with an aggravating factor, to be considered by the sentencing judge or the pardons board. Litvack has said the possible new direction arose out of a working group as a way to "hopefully take some of the venom out of the issue" and garner Republican support for the measure. Hate-crimes bills in Utah have failed repeatedly. Some opponents object to any hate-crimes legislation, contending that punishment should be according to the crime rather than according to the motives behind it. Others have objected to including sexual orientation among the categories of bias or prejudice, which also have included race, color, disability, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, and gender. The draft proposal would make it an aggravating sentencing factor if a victim or property is selected primarily because of membership or perceived membership in a group. The groups would not be specified. Senate judiciary committee chairman Chris Buttars, who voted against the bill last session, said that "without the categories, I'd be seriously looking at it," but "if this is giving special protection to the gay community, I'm going to oppose it." Rep. Curt Oda said he'd "have to really look at it and think about what the ramifications would be." Oda said he opposed last year's version because he said it would provide unequal protection to crime victims who belong to a protected class. "An assault is an assault," Oda said. "The penalties shouldn't be any less for a group that's not included. Maybe [Litvack has] come upon an answer. Until I've studied it I can't give an answer." Litvack said he hopes that Buttars and other lawmakers are willing to talk to him before deciding to vote against the bill. "Obviously it's still going to be a challenge, and we have our work cut out for us," Litvack said. "It wouldn't be the Utah legislature any other way." Forrest Crawford, a Weber State University education professor who was part of the discussion group, said the new approach is not ideal but that it provides "more of an opportunity to penalize perpetrators." Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake City branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is concerned about the enforceability of the proposed bill. Williams said she will pursue a ballot initiative if no hate-crimes legislation passes this year. (AP)

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