Hate crimes bill to return to the Utah State Legislature

SALT LAKE CITY — The hate crimes bill, that has been run year after year but failed to pass the Utah State Legislature, will make a return trip to Capitol Hill.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, confirmed to FOX 13 on Friday he was opening a bill file and bringing the legislation back. He said recent incidents targeting the Buddhist and Jewish communities in Utah have given him new motivation to push for its passage.

The bill has been controversial for years because of its inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity. A few years ago, then-sponsor Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, accused The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — a powerful force on Utah’s Capitol Hill — of working behind the scenes to “snuff out” his bill.

Sen. Thatcher pointed out he had support from prosecutors, faith groups (except the LDS Church) and even cities across Utah who passed resolutions supporting his bill to make it an enhanced penalty to target someone for things like race, religion, gender and sexual orientation or gender identity. The senator said the LDS Church has not spoken directly to him about the bill.

“They’ve never expressed opposition to me directly. If they did bring a concern to me I would move heaven and earth to address it,” he told FOX 13. “The only thing that’s non-negotiable is that this bill must apply to everyone.”

The LDS Church did not have a comment on Friday about Sen. Thatcher’s bill. Social conservative groups have also opposed the legislation in the past.

The West Valley City Republican said his bill could also help stem Utah’s epidemic of youth suicide.

“When you feel unsafe, when you feel like your community, like your tribe is under attack,” Sen. Thatcher said. “It speaks to the anxiety and the stress that leads to Utah having one of the highest suicide rates.”

The bill will be formally introduced in the 2019 legislative session.