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Hate crimes law passes Senate committee, heads to full vote

File photo. Photo credit: Utah State Capitol

SALT LAKE CITY – The Utah Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement, and Criminal Justice Committee has unanimously passed an updated hate crimes bill following more than an hour of emotional testimony on Capitol Hill, with many testifying about their experiences with bigotry.

The law would allow judges to imposes harsher penalties if the victim was targeted because of their age, ancestry, disability, ethnicity, familial status, gender identity, homelessness, marital status, matriculation, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, service in the armed forces, or status as an emergency responder or law enforcement officer.

Senator Lyle Hillyard, an attorney, said the law won’t fix everything but, “I think it gives enough of a signal to help solve that problem.”

Jean Hill with the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City said, “Criminal acts committed because of a deep-seated rejection of a brother or a sister’s humanity requires a response that asks the perpetrator to acknowledge not only the harm done but also their failure to respect the dignity of the other person.”

But not everyone who testified backed the bill. Some said it was much too broad, while others argued it arbitrarily left off other choice-based groups such as political ones.

The bill next heads to the full Senate.

The spotlight was put on Utah’s current hate crimes law after a series of high profile attacks over the past few months on gay men and Mexicans in Salt Lake City.