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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A hate-crimes bill that would do away with the categories of victims has drawn a cool reception.
Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake and a longtime sponsor of the annual hate-crimes bills, said he has been considering offering a bill that would replace the penalty enhancement called for in past bills with an aggravating factor to be considered by the sentencing judge or the pardons board.
Litvack has 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 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. The groups would not be specified.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, who voted against the bill last session, said that "without the categories, I'd be seriously looking at it," but, "If this is giving special protection to the gay community, I'm going to oppose it."
Rep. Curt Oda, R-Clearfield, said he'd "have to really look at it and think about what the ramifications would be."
Oda said he opposed last year's version because he said it would provide unequal protection to crime victims who belong to a protected class.
"An assault is an assault," Oda said. "The penalties shouldn't be any less for a group that's not included. Maybe (Litvack's) come upon an answer. Until I've studied it, I can't give an answer."
Gayle Ruzicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, which has long opposed the legislation, said "it's just more of the same thing -- enhanced penalties because of who the crime is committed against.
"It's still a hate crimes bill that doesn't treat all people equally under the law," Ruzicka said. "If we need to enhance penalties, it needs to be across the board for all people for the crime that's committed, not for (whom) it's committed against."
Litvack said he hopes that Buttars, and other lawmakers, are willing to talk to him before deciding to vote against the bill.
"Obviously it's going to still be a challenge and we have our work cut out for us," Litvack said. "It wouldn't be the Utah Legislature any other way."
Forrest Crawford, Weber State University education professor who was part of the discussion group, said the new approach is not the ideal, but it provides "more of an opportunity to penalize perpetrators."
Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake Branch NAACP, is concerned about the enforceability of the proposed bill.
Williams said she will pursue a ballot initiative if no hate crimes legislation passes this year.
(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)