Facebook Twitter



Interested parties pack the legislative committee room, asking that skin-heads, neo-Nazis, racists and bigots be further discouraged from beating them, spitting at them, burning crosses on their lawns, defacing their churches.

They're frustrated. Some are angry."Do you want me to be killed!" yelled one young man into the face of House Majority Whip Byron Harward after one committee hearing. The man then started crying, turned and fled.

Of course Harward, R-Provo, doesn't want that man or any other harmed. But voices of reason haven't had much sway in the emotional debate over Rep. Frank Pignanelli's hate-crime bills.

Pignanelli's main bill would increase penalties for crimes committed against people because of their race, ancestry, ethnic origin, religion or sexual orientation. A second bill requires hate crimes to be recorded by local and state police.

The arguments will likely come to an end on Tuesday when the House Judiciary Committee probably will kill the main bill. The committee on Friday did approve a watered-down version of a hate crime statistical reporting measure, but only after removing, as one of the reporting categories, "sexual orientation" - meaning that hate crimes against homosexuals may or may not be tallied, the decision now fallingon the Department of Public Safety.

For some, even the lawmakers, it's been a difficult debate.

"I'm worn out. I'm spent. I think they'll kill the (main) bill. I don't know what else I can do," says an emotionally exhausted Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake.

"This bill has real legal and political problems," says Rep. Ted Lewis, D-Salt Lake, one of two Democrats on the committee to oppose the measures as drafted. "There's been terrific emotion, rhetoric. The emotions are so strong (by those in favor and opposed to the bills) I wonder if they are precursors to the very hatred we're trying to deal with."

Key to the opposition is including homosexuals in the bills in any form. Don Rizucka of the conservative Eagle Forum says even mentioning "sexual orientation" in the bills makes them "flagship legislation for homosexuals."

"Have no doubt, (placing homosexuals in the bills) does and will advance their cause," he says.

Nonsense, says Pignanelli, who even included language in the bills used by U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch to ensure no favoritism for homosexuals in federal legislation on hate crime reporting that he advocated.

KTALK radio host Jim Kirkwood says his on-air opposition to neo-Nazis and promiscuity by homosexuals and heterosexuals has led to an attempted boycott of KTALK advertisers by gays and lesbians, death threats and other intimidation. Kirkwood says he is now a victim, just as much as those of the hate crimes he despises.

And through it all, Jews, blacks, homosexuals and other minorities supporting the bills tell horrifying stories about intimidation, bigotry and fear.

Harward says time should be taken to draft a new bill, one that focuses on the motivation - the hatred - of the criminal instead of the classification of the victim. Prove specific, premeditated hatred by the criminal and enhance the penalties for the crime, Har-ward says.

Pignanelli answers that while classification of victims by race, et al, is a vital part of his bill, it is not a minority bill. "A white heterosexual male beaten because he is a white heterosexual male is covered just as a gay, Hispanic or Catholic is if they were beaten because of who they are," he says.

Unfortunately, lawmakers who both support and oppose Pignanel-li's bills worry that the debate itself has been divisive - separating people along the very lines the bills themselves are meant to heal.