When Utah Sen. Daniel Thatcher introduced his hate crime bill in last year’s legislative session, it didn’t even get a public hearing.
Now, the Republican senator is hoping a resolution the West Jordan City Council passed Wednesday night could show the Legislature it needs to make changes in 2018 to the state’s current hate crime law, which Thatcher called “literally unenforceable.”
“Last year, we didn’t have the policy conversation,” he said. “Last year, the argument was made that there’s no interest in this issue. Well, I think cities and counties can help us settle that argument. I believe there is interest in this issue. I believe our cities and counties can help us make that clear.”
The city joined groups like the Statewide Association of Prosecutors, the Utah Chiefs of Police Association, the Utah Sheriffs’ Association and others that have already expressed support for the Legislature to act. West Jordan Councilman Dirk Burton said he’s heard other cities may follow suit but said he was unable to substantiate the rumors.
Invoking the protection in the U.S. Constitution of “mankind’s unalienable rights,” the city’s resolution offers support for “providing law enforcement stronger tools to address crime that deliberately targets a victim because of race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability.”
The resolution passed 5-2, with Councilman Chad Nichols and Councilman David Newton voting in opposition.
“I am grateful that West Jordan looked at an issue where they could easily have said, ‘That’s a state problem,’ and they recognized that, in this instance, West Jordan’s leadership could make a difference,” Thatcher said after the council voted. “They stepped up. They were brave, and I’m proud tonight of West Jordan.”
Equality Utah also has expressed support for legislative action on hate crimes. Troy Williams, the organization’s director, also praised West Jordan and said he hopes its resolution can spur statewide consensus on the issue.
“It’s beautiful that a community like West Jordan can come together and take a stand for love and inclusion and acceptance,” Williams said. “We hope that other cities and counties will follow. The nation is so divided right now on so many issues, but we can all agree that no one should be targeted and no one should be the victim of violence just because of who they are.”
No one has been prosecuted for a hate-based crime in Utah in the 20 years the statute has been in place, Williams said.
Steve Jones, a West Jordan resident, was the only person to speak on the resolution during public comment and expressed concern over changing the state’s current law.
“There’s a law against assaulting people; that should be treated the same regardless of why that individual assaulted,” he said. “To put an extra protection for a handful of items is wrong.”
Thatcher, however, said that concerns about hate crime legislation offering some people protection and not others are unfounded.
“The gentleman who spoke was correct,” Thatcher said before the council. “Any solution that comes forward must offer equal protection under the law. It can’t protect one race and not another. It must protect all races. It must protect all religions.”
Thatcher plans to introduce a hate crime bill in the 2018 Legislature similar to the one he brought in 2017.
His failed to get a hearing. A similar hate crime bill former Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, proposed in the 2016 legislative session failed in the Senate on a 17-11 vote. Urquhart told The Tribune at the time that he believed opposition from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had ultimately killed his bill.
FBI Hate Crime Statistics from 2015, which contain data from 14,997 law enforcement agencies, show more than 12,700 offenses that year were motivated “by bias against race, ethnicity, ancestry, sexual orientation, disability, gender and gender identity.”
Of the 59 bias-related crimes reported in 2015 to Utah’s Bureau of Criminal Identification, 33 were related to race — with white victims the primary target — and 14 were related to religion, according to past reporting from The Salt Lake Tribune. Ten bias crimes were perpetrated against victims from the LGBT community, data show.
Though Thatcher said Utah has been “very lucky” to have a relatively small number of hate crimes, he said it’s still important for the state Legislature to ensure an enforceable law makes it on the books in case an issue does occur.
“What happens when there is something and we do need enhanced penalties and we can’t apply them?” he said. “What does that do to the peace and the security of our community? If we have an honest-to-goodness, legitimate crime in the state of Utah where we need this law and it doesn’t exist yet, then it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I’d like to head that off.”