House Reconsiders Its Decision on Hate Crimes Bill

House Reconsiders Its Decision on Hate Crimes Bill

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- By one tie-breaking vote, the Utah House of Representatives decided Friday to reconsider its decision to increase penalties for hate-motivated crimes.

The 37-36 decision will bring the bill back to the House for more debate and another vote. It has yet to reach the Utah Senate for debate.

Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City, said there were things in the legislation approved late Thursday that needed to be worked out, but did not specify.

"We did have a really good hearing on this last night for over two hours," said Rep. Loraine Pace, R-Logan, when opposing the proposal to revisit the bill. "That business is done."

After the two hours of debate Thursday night, the House approved a bill to increase penalties for hate-motivated crimes. It was a move that surprised most of the lawmakers, including the bill's sponsor Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City.

For five previous years, those supporting penalty enhancements for hate crimes have seen the legislation shot down in the House.

It was, however, a close vote at 38-35.

The bill would levy harsher penalties for people who threaten or commit acts of violence or vandalism against someone because of bias against the victim's race, color, gender, disability, nationality, ancestry, religion or sexual orientation.

The bill was altered on the House floor to add businesses to that list, which would include fur farms and ranches.

The legislation would increase the penalties for a crime by one degree, so a Class B misdemeanor would be bumped up to a Class A, and so on. For first-degree felonies, the hate crime would be considered before the convict was paroled.

Friday's vote brought the bill back from the Senate, where it had been waiting to be decided there. It was not immediately clear when the House would, again, debate the bill.

Many conservative lawmakers argue against the hate crimes bill. They say it gives special rights to minorities, especially to gays and lesbians. Opponents of the bill Thursday argued that all crimes are hate crimes and that all people are hurt by these crimes.

Rep. La Var Christensen, R-Draper, said emotion on the issue blurred Thursday night's debate.

"I don't feel like the bill in its current form is exactly where it needs to be," he said.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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