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SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday a hate crimes law should be considered by the 2019 Legislature and that members of the LGBT community should be able to feel safe in Utah.
"We think there's a benefit there for stopping crime," the governor said during his monthly news conference on KUED of enhancing penalties for crimes targeting victims because of personal characteristics such as race or sexual orientation.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will not oppose hate crimes legislation, Marty Stephens, the church's director of government and community relations, told the Deseret News Wednesday.
"We think this is an issue that the Legislature should rightfully wrestle with and come up with good public policy so that people are protected, whatever the Legislature feels is the best way to do that," Stephens said.
The church's position, Herbert said, "can't hurt the possibilities. I don't know that it changes everybody's mind. But I think it's certainly a discussion we ought to have, and I welcome the debate."
Asked if the LGBT community should be included in any legislation, the GOP governor said they should know they "are loved and welcomed and appreciated for who they are. They ought to feel safe. They ought to feel loved."
Herbert said that means "anything we can do to enhance that, we ought to do."
He also said he supports a way for Utahns to make sure their birth certificates reflect their gender identity. Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, has filed a bill that would not allow changes to the gender assigned on birth certificates.
"I haven't seen the bill and I don't know the motivation," the governor said.
But he said he agrees "that if people want to be identified by whatever it is they want to be identified, if that's a gender issue, if it's sexual orientation, they ought to have the ability to do that. If they want to have that on a public record, there ought to be a process, in fact, for that to happen."
Herbert stopped short of saying what action he would take on Nelson's bill.
"Without seeing the bill, I don't use the 'V' word very often," he said, adding he tries to work to shape legislation to avoid a veto. "I'd expect that's how we will work on this issue."
A hate crimes bill is expected to be introduced again this session by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City. A hate crimes bill was voted down in 2016, and subsequent similar proposals have not been advanced by Republican leaders.
The 45-day legislative session begins Monday.