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Utah hate-crimes
bill passes without sexual orientation protection

Utah hate-crimes
bill passes without sexual orientation protection

Saltlakecity

After a six-year battle to strengthen Utah's hate-crimes law, a bill passed the house on Thursday without protections for specific classes of people, including gays.

After a six-year battle to strengthen Utah's hate-crimes law, Rep. David Litvack got what he's been after: the overwhelming support of the house. House Bill 90, which underwent an overnight overhaul, passed the house on a 64-5 vote Thursday in Salt Lake City. It now moves to the senate, where little opposition is expected.

But the overhaul stripped the bill of any mention of sexual orientation, something opponents of the measure had been lobbying for. Historically, the house objections centered on a list of characteristics for which hate-crime victims are typically targeted. Included in those was sexual orientation; the Republican-led house argued that its mention would create "special rights" for gay people. Others argued that the bill might violate the First Amendment, supposedly "punishing a person for their thoughts." The new version of the bill removes the list of traits and adds language that states the intent of the bill is not to curb free speech. "That's all we've ever asked for," said Gayle Ruzicka, president of the conservative group Utah Eagle Forum, which has fought the bill for at least six years. "It's the right bill, it took out the groups and has the aggravating factors," she said. "But it protects the individual. Under this bill, I would be protected just as much as if I were a member of a group."

This is only the second time hate-crimes legislation has passed the house. In 2003 a different version of the bill passed on a 38-35 vote after a lengthy, late-night debate. But it was recalled the next morning and then pulled from consideration by Litvack and a cosponsor after an attempt to gut it. No reconsideration is expected this time, said Litvack, a Democrat from Salt Lake City: "I think we're safe." (AP)

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