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Death of a hate crimes bill

How unfortunate that the Utah Legislature — for the sixth straight year — did not see fit to pass a hate crimes law.

For the first time, a hate crimes measure did pass the House, but some legislators who voted on the prevailing side asked to reconsider the legislation. The sponsors, Reps. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, and Jim Ferrin, R-Orem, made the difficult decision to pull the bill Tuesday night, which last week had passed the House by a 38-35 vote. Several factors were at play: that it would be debated with so little time left in the legislative session; that at least two substitute bills that would have watered down the legislation were circulating in the House; and the specter of a bitter fight shaping up between those on both sides of the debate.

A piece of legislation about combating crimes driven by hate deserves better.

Litvack and Ferrin should consider the earlier passage of the bill in the House a partial victory. The late Sen. Pete Suazo made three runs at the legislation and a fourth was carried by his widow, Alicia, who completed her husband's term after he died in an ATV accident in 2001.

Although the vote in the House was close, it demonstrates that a growing number of legislators understand that prosecutors need the option of enhanced penalties against perpetrators of crimes that target people because of a broader bias or prejudice. Contrary to rhetoric of the bill's critics, HB85 did not establish a protected class of people.

The successful vote in the House acknowledges that an attack on a person or institution motivated by hatred of their religion, ethnicity, age, gender or sexual background cannot be tolerated by people who value free expression. Hate crimes, at their core, are attempts to silence differing points of view.

For the 38 Utah legislators who took a stand against hate crimes, we say thank you.

Litvack and Ferrin are to be congratulated for their joint efforts to bring this issue forward. It is our deep hope they have not been discouraged by this turn of events.

As Litvack observed last year when the Senate hate crimes bill was defeated, "It's not going to go away because the problem in the community is not going to go away." Well said, representative.