Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. on Wednesday signed into law legislation that he called a "pathway of hope," officially adding Utah to the list of states with a hate-crimes law.
The longtime sponsor, Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, stood by as the governor signed HB90, a highly lauded compromise version of the bill Litvack had carried for a tumultuous six years.
Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, who worked on the compromise, was also on hand as Huntsman, with the stroke of a pen, brought to an end what has been among Utah's most long-standing and contentious debates.
Before he signed the bill into law, Huntsman acknowledged the rough road traveled by those have long sought the legislation.
"This was a culmination of prolonged and collaborative efforts," Huntsman said.
Former Rep. Frank Pignanelli introduced a bill, which passed after it was stripped of its teeth in 1992. After prosecutors found that bill to be unenforceable, the late Sen. Pete Suazo, who died in 2001, started carrying revamped legislation in 1999.
Although Suazo didn't live to see a hate-crimes bill, Huntsman said, "Perhaps today, by signing this bill into law he may find additional peace."
At the signing ceremony in the governor's office, Litvack spoke not of his own achievements but of those who came before him. He also acknowledged the community members, lawmakers, law enforcement officers and prosecutors who worked with him.
Litvack attributed Suazo's and Pignanelli's efforts to "trudging through snow," clearing the path for the legislation's eventual passage.
"Though it took six years, my involvement was much easier," Litvack said.
Litvack said the bill is only a small step in building a more welcoming and respectful community.
"We all have the responsibility to be bridge-builders," Litvack said, "if we truly want to live in the community that HB90 will set the path for."
The bill, which passed with nearly unanimous support, was highly lauded as a compromise that removed contentious protected categories of race, religion, sexual orientation and other categories but still provided a tool for law enforcement to use.
It creates an aggravating factor to be considered at sentencing and focuses on the impact of a crime on the community, not what motivated the crime. Longtime opponents did not like the proposed protected categories or attempts to charge someone based on what he was thinking or believed.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said the bill provides the tools law enforcement officers and prosecutors have long asked for to punish those who commit hate crimes.
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