SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah senator is bringing back a recently defeated proposal to beef up the state’s hate crimes law and add protections for gay and transgender people.
Sen. Daniel Thatcher said Monday the measure would give heavier punishments to the small group of defendants who are found guilty of committing a crime to terrorize groups of people based on factors like race, gender and religion.
“Inherently, these people are more dangerous because they don’t need a motive. They’re walking around with a built-in motive,” Thatcher said. The bill boosts protections for people in all races and religions, whether those are minority or majority groups, he said.
He called his proposal a victim selection measure rather than hate crime legislation, a change that he said reflects the focus on suspects’ actions rather than their thoughts or ideas, which fall into the category of free speech.
“It’s not against the law to hate someone. You can’t criminalize that,” he said.
Thatcher faced questions from his fellow lawmakers when he introduced a draft of the bill last week.
Republican Rep. Curtis Oda of Clearfield asked whether attacks on obese people or members of book clubs could be considered hate crimes.
“I don’t know of any crime that is committed out of love,” he said, except perhaps crimes of passion or mercy killings.
Thatcher countered that most crimes are motivated by opportunity, and the experience of being gay in Utah is very different than that of a member of a book club.
Republican Sen. Todd Weiler of Woods Cross, meanwhile, asked whether the measure would prevent future crimes targeting certain groups.
While supporters acknowledged it wasn’t clear whether the change would prevent future crime, the bill could help ease tensions between groups and enhance confidence in the legal system.
Lawmakers also raised concerns raised about a similar bill introduced during the last session.
It failed after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement urging legislators not to upset a balance between religious and LGBT rights.
Though the church didn’t elaborate on the statement, sponsor Republican Sen. Steve Urquhart said then he thought it damaged the bill’s chances.
Thatcher said he’s hoping that starting the public discussion on the idea early will help lawmakers and others fully understand what it means. The church hasn’t taken a public position on the new bill.