SALT LAKE CITY — A House committee advanced a hate crimes bill Friday despite some friction between committee members and the bill's sponsor.
Members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee voted 8-2 to send SB103 to the House floor. The bill has already passed the Senate for the first time after years of attempts by senators to enact hate crimes legislation.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, apologized for making what he later called a "flippant" comment during his presentation after being rebuked by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, for being "insulting" and out of order.
Thatcher, the sponsor, had said if committee members couldn't see the difference between graffiti that defaces property and that which threatens a community, they should vote no and "also probably shouldn't be in charge of criminal justice policy."
Ray voted in favor of the bill, but another committee member who took issue with the statement, Rep. Mark Strong, R-Bluffdale, did not. The committee's vice chairwoman, Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, also voted against the bill.
"The biggest challenge that we have when discussing hate crimes is the term itself," Thatcher told the committee, because it evokes "very, very strong, emotional reactions."
He said the enhanced penalties for targeting someone based on their race, religion, sexual orientation or other characteristics identified in the bill do not apply until someone is being sentenced for a crime.
"We're not punishing thoughts or feelings. We are not criminalizing anything that is not currently a crime," Thatcher said. "This isn't about hurting feelings. This isn't about saying mean things. This is about the action."
Dani Palmer, of the Utah Eagle Forum, spoke against the bill, saying that if the state wants to create what she termed "special protections," everyone should be protected, including those targeted for their political beliefs.
"If we’re going to do it, then I support doing it for everybody," Palmer said.
But Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, said the bill already includes "basically, the bulk of humanity" and questioned the need for any additions. Others, including Coleman, asked why there couldn't be protections for political and other associations.
Thatcher said free speech and association is already protected under the First Amendment, but promised that adding new categories would be studied over the legislative interim.
He said he already included marital status, where someone attended college and other categories to get the bill through the Senate and wanted to avoid having another vote there as a result of changes made in the House.
Two committee members talked about being part of communities that are targeted.
"Many of us experience this all the time," House Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said. "I have to remind people, yes, we've been here way before many of you. We didn't cross the border. There are stereotypes there."
Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, recalled the "sad day I pulled in front of my church and there was a police officer there" to protect the congregation while they worshiped because of attacks on black churches and Jewish synagogues.
"I've been a victim of hate crime before. I've been targeted. I have to manuever and move differently in this community because I am a black woman," Hollins said. She said she is fine with people disagreeing with her politics.
"We can agree to disagree. But when you start attacking me because of no other reason than I am, that God made me, a black woman, then I think it's wrong," she said, calling for protections for those who are "purposefully being targeted."
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said he was testifying in favor of the bill "as the son of immigrants, a person of color, as a man of Sikh faith," adding that "hate crimes send a chill of terror when they’re committed."
Gill cited as an example of a hate crime the 1838 massacre of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Missouri. Strong asked how the penalty for what he saw as first-degree felony murder could be enhanced.
He told Gill that "the fact you are … not even of a different faith, of a different race, I don't care. I really don't care. I see all of us as individuals under the law. Because of that, I cannot support this legislation."8 comments on this story
Strong referenced Thatcher's earlier remarks about those on the committee who might oppose the hate crimes bills, describing himself as among the "ignorant committee members."
Thatcher told reporters after the hearing, "Honestly, I feel good. I think at the end of the day, people are starting to get it. There's a couple of people that, let's be honest, probably don't want to get it."
He said he apologized personally to Strong after the hearing for what he called "the kind of flippant thing you say to a friend in a private conversation. It was not something you say out loud."