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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Rep. David Litvack may take a different approach with the hate-crimes bill for the coming session.
The Salt Lake Democrat, a longtime sponsor of the annual hate-crimes bills, said several options are still on the table, but the No. 1 candidate would drop the categories.
It would also replace the penalty enhancement with an aggravating factor to be considered by the sentencing judge or the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole.
Litvack said the possible new direction arose out of a working group as a way to "hopefully take some of the venom out of the issue" and garner Republican support for the measure.
The hate-crimes bills have failed repeatedly.
Some opponents object to any hate-crimes legislation, contending punishment should be according to the crime rather than according to the motives behind it.
Others have objected to including sexual orientation among the categories of bias or prejudice, which also have included race, color, disability, religion, national origin, ancestry, age and gender.
The legislation had support from law enforcement and prosecutors, who say a 1992 civil rights statute is unenforceable after being stripped of its list of categories.
A new draft proposal would make it an aggravating sentencing factor if a victim or property is selected primarily because of membership or perceived membership in a group.
"It's not the complete package that we were hoping for in terms of enhancements, but it is a step up from where we are currently," Litvack said. "It does provide a tool to hold offenders of hate crimes accountable."
Litvack said he won't make a decision on the bill until he gets more community feedback and makes sure "we fully understand it."
Republican Senate President John Valentine said, "I can confirm that having categories of groups has been a major stumbling block in past approaches. If you're in the 'right' group you get protection; if you're not in the 'right' group you don't."
A Georgia hate crimes law that didn't name categories was stricken down as unconstitutionally vague by that state's Supreme Court.
However, Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and members of a working group say the new Utah legislation would pass constitutional muster.
That's because it contains a section requiring consideration of the degree to which the victim's selection is likely to cause emotional or other harm or incite community unrest, Shurtleff said.
Shurtleff said the Georgia ruling had called attention to the lack of such language in Georgia's law.
"This is something we can pursue. The question is, is it watering it down?" Shurtleff said. "I don't think it does."
Paul Boyden, executive director of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors, said the aggravation doesn't step up a penalty as would an enhancement, for example, from a third-degree to second-degree felony. Instead, it's meant to help a judge or Utah Board of Pardons and Parole decide what sentence is appropriate within a range, he said.
"Judges and the Board of Pardons to some degree do take this into consideration already," Boyden said. "If you memorialize something, it gives the judge something to hang his hat on."
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)