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
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)