Hate crimes bill to return to Utah State Legislature

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WEST VALLEY CITY -- In the aftermath of the killing spree at a gay club in Orlando, a Utah lawmaker is moving forward with a proposed hate crimes bill.

"Anyone who's ever loved another human being, I think was affected by what happened in Orlando," said Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City. "I think it necessarily has to further drive home the point that some people are just more dangerous than others. Some people have a built-in motive."

Thatcher said he plans to pick up the bill from retiring Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, who pushed to get it passed in the legislative session that ended earlier this year. The bill would include race, religion, gender, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected classes under Utah law. It would also require prosecutors to prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" the motive was because of a person's particular class.

Urquhart accused The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a powerful presence on Utah's Capitol Hill, of killing his hate crimes bill behind closed doors. The LDS Church did not immediately offer a comment Monday on Thatcher's efforts, but has said in the past it has concerns about upsetting a balance struck in the legislature between LGBT rights and religious liberties.

In contrast, the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City supported Urquhart's original bill.

Thatcher insisted the bill would not punish thought or speech, as some critics have feared.

"People have the right to say whatever they like, even if it's awful," he said. "Even if it's horrible."

To get the bill passed next year, Thatcher said he is planning to release the draft legislation by September to give supporters and critics a chance to weigh in.

"Everyone is going to be invited to the table," he said. "Any concerns they have will be considered."

The LGBT rights group Equality Utah said it would like to see what's being planned.

"Hate crimes are a real danger that impact many different communities. It's important that we actively engage the issue in the upcoming legislative session," said Equality Utah director Troy Williams. "We look forward to continuing the dialogue with both House members and Senate leadership."

American Civil Liberties Union of Utah Executive Director Karen McCreary said she would also like to see what is proposed before taking a position.

"We need to continually move away from bigotry and discrimination and hate," she said.