It's been a long time coming, but leaders of minority communities applauded Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt Thursday as he signed into law a bill to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Leavitt signed SB121 into law, which designates the third Monday of January as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The bill also designates the third Monday of February as Washington and Lincoln Day, instead of Presidents Day.

"This brings us in line with the rest of the union," said Rep. Duane Bordeaux, D-Salt Lake City, House sponsor of the bill and the only African-American lawmaker on Utah's Capitol Hill.

Utah was the last state to designate a day in honor of the slain civil rights hero, and Bordeaux said the legislation should deliver positive sentiments to people from various races and cultures who will visit Utah during the Winter Olympics in 2002. The law should also help with race relations closer to home, he said.

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Race-related discussion has increased in Utah as hate crime concerns and race profiling by police officers have come into the spotlight.

"It is imperative that we move forward on these issues, and this legislation will only help," Bordeaux said. "We will continue to build from this and tackle other issues related to justice and equality for all people."

Bordeaux and bill sponsor Sen. Pete Suazo, D-Salt Lake City, have promised to push for hate-crime legislation and for the encoding of drivers' licenses as a way to track the race of the motorists being stopped by police.

"This also provides us a way to celebrate the progress that was achieved by the civil rights movement," Suazo said. King also actualized the promises of the U.S. Constitution, which included justice, liberty and equality, he said. "Those were the promises of our forefathers, and Dr. King raised the consciousness of the country to say that these principles applied to all people, regardless of race, creed or religion."

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