Local Republican among delegates pushing for repeal of new hate crimes law

Larry Meyers discusses issues with a fellow Republican delegate during the 2019 Washington County Republican organization convention, St. George, Utah, April 29, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE  Ahead of the Utah Republican state convention this weekend, a group of delegates has proposed a resolution asking lawmakers to repeal the hard-won hate crimes law passed earlier this year.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley, discusses his hate crimes bill on the Utah Senate floor, Salt Lake City, Utah, March 5, 2019. Gov. Gary Herbert signed the bill into law in early April. | File photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

Senate Bill 103, Victim Targeting Penalty Enhancements, passed the Legislature after three years of previously unsuccessful attempts by sponsor Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, to push it through. It was signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert earlier this month.

Read more: Gov. Herbert signs long-awaited hate-crimes law

The resolution to be presented before the GOP convention in Orem Saturday claims the new law punishes people for their personal beliefs rather than their actions.

“Allowing government to punish people for their beliefs is dangerous to liberty, and contrary to the principle of equal treatment under the law,” the resolution states.

One of the sponsors of the resolution is Larry Meyers, a St. George defense attorney who is also heavily involved in the county and state Republican parties. He was also recently elected to be one of the Washington County GOP’s six representatives to the party’s State Central Committee.

Read more: At county convention, Lt. Gov. Cox says Utah could lose Republican majority if conservatism isn’t better explained to younger voters

“If I’m a conservative Republican and a Christian and I say what I believe and they punish me for something I published on Facebook? That’s not right,” Meyers told St. George News during the Washington County Republican Party’s convention held last Saturday.

A point of the new law that was stressed by Thatcher prior to it’s passing is that offender’s bias against a certain group or person must be expressly stated in some way as to leave no doubt it was the underlying motivation for a hate crime.

A person’s association with a questionable group or an uttered racial slur is considered protected association or speech and wouldn’t be able to be considered by the court when a hate crimes penalty enhancement is on the table, Thatcher previously told St. George News.

The offender basically has to make a clear statement he went after the victim for a specific reason, thus offering an admission of guilt.

“If I have a client who commits assault and says, ‘I hate you,’ and punches a guy, that’s a class B misdemeanor,” Meyers said. “If he punches someone and says, ‘I hate you, you Muslim,’ now he gets a class A misdemeanor and its enhanced. He gets a greater penalty and that’s not right.”

Read more: Brutal beating of father, son prompts more criticism of Utah’s hate crime law

An assault is an assault and should be treated the same across the board, Meyers said.

In addition to enhancing a criminal penalty if a targeted bias is proven, SB 103 also adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of protected traits under the law. Someone’s being a member of the military or a facet of public safety was also added to the bill by lawmakers prior to it’s passing.

“When we start putting people into groups and labeling people by groups we get away from our American tradition which is individual rights,” Meyers said. “I think our rights should be based on individual rights, not just groups.”

The resolution Meyers supports states it does not oppose punishment for criminal acts, but rather “is only intended to oppose punishing a person for his or her beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be.”

Should the resolution pass, it instructs the Utah GOP to provide copies to members of the Utah Legislature and the governor and ask them to consider repealing the new hate crimes law.

According to the latest data from the FBI, Utah law enforcement agencies reported 78 incidents of hate crimes in 2017, with over half being related to the race or ancestry of the victims involved. That was an increase from 66 reported incidents in 2016. Arizona also saw an increase in reported hate crimes while Nevada saw a decrease.

Overall, the FBI reported that hate crimes increased 17 percent across the county in 2017. However, according to a 2018 report from the Salt Lake Tribune, an analysis placed the total for 2017 closer to 61 reported incidents.

The FBI data comes from 27 different police agencies while the state data is taken from 15, according to the Tribune report.

In the 2017 crime report from the Utah Department of Public Safety, it recorded 35 reported hate crimes incidents reported by various police agencies across the state. That number is down from 57 incidents, marking a 38.6 percent decrease.

In Southern Utah, according to the FBI data, four racially-motivated hate crimes were reported in St. George in 2017, while the state report only listed one incident.

Both the FBI and Utah DPS reported two hate crimes in Washington City during the same period.

At the time, FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michelle Perkins told the Tribune that, dispite the conflicting data, hate crimes tend to go underreported in Utah. She nonetheless expects the numbers, wherever they fall, to rise in coming years.

Here is the text of the resolution:


Resolution on Punishing People for Their Beliefs
Proposed for consideration at the May 4th, 2019 Convention
of the Utah State Republican Party

Whereas, in its recent 2019 General Session, the Utah State Legislature passed Senate Bill 103 (SB103), “Victim Targeting Penalty Enhancements”;

Whereas SB103 subjects a defendant to enhanced penalties if the defendant intentionally selects a victim “because of the defendant’s belief or perception regarding the victim’s personal attribute or a personal attribute of another individual or group of individuals with whom the victim has a relationship”; and

Whereas allowing government to punish people for their beliefs is dangerous to liberty, and contrary to the principle of equal treatment under the law;

Now therefore, be it resolved that the Utah State Republican Party requests that the Utah State Legislature:

Reject proposals to punish people for their beliefs; and

Work to repeal any existing Utah Code that would punish people for their beliefs.

Be it further resolved that the Utah State Republican Party instructs the Chairman to authenticate and send copies of this resolution:

  • to all Republican members of the Utah State Legislature; and
  • to Governor Herbert.

Note on intent of this resolution:

This resolution is not intended to oppose criminal punishment for criminal actions. Nor is it intended to oppose penalty enhancements for malicious premeditation to hurt another person. This resolution is only intended to oppose punishing a person for his or her beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be.

Proposed by:

  • Brent Odenwalder (Weber County)

Co-sponsors:

  • Marcy Underdahl (Carbon County)
  • Greg Frazier (Davis County)
  • Julianne Blaney (Utah County)
  • Lowell Nelson (Utah County)
  • Larry Meyers (Washington County)
  • Lynda Penrod Pipkin (Weber County)
  • Roy Purkiss (Weber County)

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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