SALT LAKE CITY — The Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a hate crimes bill.
There was no debate before the 18-11 vote sending SB103 to the House, although the sponsor of the bill, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, tried to address concerns that the bill punishes thoughts rather than actions.
"The emotion of the term hate is causing that confusion," he said.
The bill enhances the punishment for a crime when victims are targeted because of their race, religion, sexual orientation or a list of other characteristics, including where they went to college and their marital status.
Thatcher urged his fellow senators to listen to "all the groups we trust to advise us."
Before the 2019 legislative session started, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints indicated it would not stand in the way of such legislation. Hate crimes bills have failed for years to advance in the Legislature.
Later, Thatcher said he was referring to arguments made before the initial vote on the bill Monday that it runs counter to previous legislative efforts on criminal justice reform by enhancing punishments.
Backers of criminal justice reform support hate crimes legislation, he said, and want to see penalties made more appropriate. While most of the time that means reduced time behind bars, he said, "in special cases that should go up."
During his presentation on the bill, Thatcher told his fellow senators that some offenders are more dangerous and pose a higher risk for society. Their crimes need to be taken more seriously, he said, "and that is what this bill does."
Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, said he "never heard anybody talking about the church's position" and that Thatcher focused "on the merits of the bill, not on who did or didn't support it."
Sen. Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said it was a tough vote for him, but he voted in favor of SB103. He said more groups need to be included in the bill, such as teachers and livestock owners.
Okerlund, who missed Monday's initial vote, said he may propose legislation next year increasing the number of groups that could be viewed as victims of a hate crime.
He was one of a dozen Republicans, including Senate President Stuart Adams, R-Layton, and other members of Senate majority leadership who joined the Senate's six Democrats in supporting the bill.
Senate Minority Assistant Whip Jani Iwamoto said she knew of hate crimes while attending law school out of state. Growing up, she said knew she'd be called a racial slur and heard of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.5 comments on this story
The hate crimes bill is "an important step," Iwamoto, D-Holladay, said. "We always say that we don't want to repeat history, but it repeats over and over again. So we have to be vigilant. So I'm really happy for this bill to pass."
Thatcher said the House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, "is hopeful, which makes me hopeful," the bill will get through the Legislature before the session ends March 14.
"I think it goes with some momentum into the House," Adams said. "We’ll see how they react there. I think 18 votes is a good number."