WEST JORDAN — West Jordan became the first city in Utah to pass a resolution Wednesday urging the Legislature to strengthen laws to address crimes that target people because of their race, religion or sexual orientation.
The City Council approved a symbolic measure in a 5-2 vote Wednesday evening, at the urging of the state lawmaker proposing to beef up the law.
"I want West Jordan to be the leader, to send a message," said Councilman Dirk Burton. "We don’t tolerate people mistreating our people for any particular reason."
State Sen. Daniel Thatcher told the council he's bringing a bill in the 2018 legislative session that would give law enforcement better, stronger tools to address crimes targeting victims because of their sexual orientation, race, religion, nationality and disability.
It's not his first attempt to ensure protections for LGBT and other groups.
Legislative leaders last year didn’t allow Thatcher's bill a public hearing. He introduced the measure after lawmakers in 2016 voted down another Republican senator’s controversial hate crimes bill.
Councilman Chris McConnehey said he believed the state should somehow compensate families or communities indirectly threatened by criminals targeting one of their own.
But Councilman David Newton cast a no vote, saying he believed it would be hard to prove what criminals were thinking at the time.
"The hard thing for me is, unless they announce their intention, we don’t know what they are thinking," Newton said. Does that mean we guess that they are hating? That’s what it sounds like to me."
Thatcher said the measure will focus on offenders' actions rather than their thoughts or ideas, billing the proposal as a “victim selection” bill rather than hate legislation. He said his bill, which is still in the works, would not tread on free speech.
We don’t tolerate people mistreating our people for any particular reason.
–Councilman Dirk Burton
The West Valley City Republican said Christian monuments have been destroyed, Muslim mosques burned and bomb threats made against Jewish synagogues, schools and community centers, including in Utah. He says police want stronger tools to address crimes that target people based on a list of factors, including ethnicity and disability.
West Jordan is joining the Utah Attorney General's Office, Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office, law enforcement associations and community groups that want the Legislature to take action, according to the resolution.
Troy Williams, executive director of the Equality Utah, which advocates for LGBT rights, said West Jordan's approval was a "powerful statement" that pushes the state to prosecute crimes committed against people because of who they are.
Thatcher said he hopes other cities would take their cures from West Jordan and that the Legislature would consider his legislation to stiffen the punishment for crimes targeting people because of their personal characteristics. He said Beaver County leaders also are set to vote on the resolution.
"It is easy to look the other way on difficult issues and say that's someone else's problem. I takes courage to stand up and say we can do this one thing," he said.
Thatcher said if more city councils send the same message to their communities, it could change the discussion on the issue.
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