Utah Protects 'Political Expression' In New State Hate Crimes Law
After the victim of an alleged gay bashing in Salt Lake City, Utah, caught his attacker punching him on video last month, state lawmakers found themselves under new pressure to update the state’s hate crime statute.
Upon the arrest of the suspect, Carlo Alazo, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill told the media he would not be attaching hate crime enhancements to the charges because he felt it was “nearly impossible for me to prove that intent” under Utah’s hate crime statutes calling them "unworkable."
“I would have to show that the person involved in criminal behavior had the intent to deny a constitutionally protected right,” Gill added, such as free speech or religious expression, which doesn’t apply in this case. “It’s so burdensome, we don’t even go to it.”
Utah’s hate crime laws apparently have never been utilized successfully in court.
Last week, the state Senate passed an updated version of the law by a vote of 18 - 11. And Tuesday night, members of the House approved the legislation by a vote of 64 - 9.
From The Salt Lake Tribune:
Thatcher’s bill would allow judges to increase penalties for a crime if a defendant is convicted of targeting someone based on ancestry, disability, ethnicity, gender identity, national origin, race, religion or sexual orientation. Additional classes that would be protected under the bill include age, familial status, homelessness, marital status, matriculation, military service and status as a police officer or emergency responder to the list of protected classes.
A person must first be convicted of a crime before additional penalties would apply.
The Tribune reports that Gov. Gary Herbert has signaled he will sign the final version of the bill.
“Governor Herbert appreciates the great work of the legislature in passing this important piece of legislation, which will serve as a powerful tool in providing critical protections to marginalized groups and persons,” read a statement from the Governor’s office.
Troy Williams, the executive director of Equality Utah, said the moment was nearly 20 years in the making.
“It was incredibly moving to have a body of conservative elected lawmakers vote for protections for LGBTQ individuals,” he told the Tribune.
An interesting development during the debate in the House, though, was the passage of an amendment that adds “political expression” to the list of categories that will be protected by the new law.
Rep. Karianne Lisonbee (R-Clearfield) became emotional as she shared she had been the target of “death threats” after she recently made changes to a proposed bill that would have banned so-called ‘conversion therapy’ for minors.
Lisonbee’s changes eventually gutted the bill, HB399, and lead to the main sponsor pulling his own legislation from consideration for now.
The development not only angered LGBTQ activists, but past Facebook comments by Lisonbee were brought to light in an Associate Press report where she had questioned if living a ‘homosexual lifestyle’ could lead people to suicide.
As a result of her tearful testimony, the amendment to the hate crimes bill was passed.
The bill now heads back to the state Senate to approve the changes to the bill where it’s expected to pass.