ST. GEORGE – When it came to crime and justice, lawmakers meant business this year with sweeping changes in several areas. Among these were measures passed to protect women, law enforcement and children. Legislators also passed a bill making the new street drug ‘pink’ illegal. The move came just months after the deaths of two teens in Park City. There were also some attempts to provide protections for animals but, except for one bill now making it a crime to harass livestock with a drone, the others didn’t make it through the process.
These are among many things the Legislature did during its 2017 general session now come and gone. This report is the fourth in a four-part series on the session’s highlights.
The general session ended at midnight Thursday and Utah lawmakers are no longer being held hostage at the State Capitol. These elected officials who willingly endure such captivity on behalf of their constituents passed 535 bills out of a proposed 1,279 during this year’s session. While there was nothing passed in the way of tax reform – a subject that was batted around during the session – it will likely be a big issue next year.
- Part 1 – Legislature wraps: $16B budget, education $$, alcohol laws, short-term rentals and more
- Part 2 – Legislature wraps: Elections, polygamy, cannabis, ‘No Promo Homo’ and more
- Part 3 – Legislature wraps: Public lands, air quality, medical and crisis options
Crime and justice
A bill that brought sweeping changes to how youths are sentenced and punished for crimes made its way through the Legislature this year. Sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, Juvenile Justice Amendments, designated as HB 239, is reform legislation focusing on home confinement for youth offenders rather than detention. Lawmakers are hopeful this new approach will divert teens away from the system that often creates a school-to-prison pipeline. Legislators from Southern Utah all voted in favor of the bill in the final analysis, although Rep. John Westwood had voted against its second amended version earlier in the House.
A hate crimes-related bill, titled Victim Selection Penalty Enhancements and designated SB 72, included sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes. The bill was introduced early on, but was never heard in the Legislature. Read more here.
A bill calling for Duty to Retreat Amendments, designated HB 259, would have made it illegal for prosecutors to argue that a person who uses deadly force in an act of self-defense should instead run away. The bill never made it to the Senate floor. Its sponsor, Rep. A. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi, argued before the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee that the bill was a clarification and not a change to the current statute on self-defense. The bill was ultimately bounced back to the Senate Rules Committee where it died. Read more here. Legislators from Southern Utah all voted in favor of the legislation except Rep. Mike Noel who was absent or did not vote.
A bill calling for the appointment of a new Fifth District Judge, designated HB 77, passed unanimously in both the House and Senate providing for a sixth judgeship for Beaver, Iron and Washington counties. Read more here. Southern Utah legislators all supported this bill.
The Domestic Violence – Weapons Restrictions bill, designated HB 206, passed. It prohibits anyone convicted of domestic violence or who had a protective order issued against them from possessing or carrying guns. Second Amendment advocates supported the legislation brought by Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City. The language of the bill duplicates a federal law already on the books. With the exception of Sen. David Hinkins, who voted against this bill, and Sen. Ralph Okerlund, who was either absent or did not vote, all Southern Utah legislators favored the weapons restriction legislation.
In addition, Rep. V. Lowry Snow sponsored the Offenses Against the Person Amendments, designated HB 17, making attempted strangulation a felony. The new law fills a major “loophole” in Utah’s Criminal Code, Snow said, adding that Utah is only 1 of 9 states that had not yet defined attempted strangulation in its law books. Southern Utah legislators all voted for the amendments except for Hinkins, who was either absent or did not vote.
Lawmakers passed Pedestrian Safety Amendments, designated HB 161, which essentially prohibits panhandling in or along high-speed roads. While the bill does not specifically mention panhandlers, the new law makes it illegal for the transfer of money or property between a pedestrian and an occupant of a motor vehicle while the motor vehicle is within certain roadways. The measure restricts these exchanges on an interstate, freeway, state highway, state route and roads that are both paved and have a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or higher. Southern Utah legislators all voted for the amendments except for Noel, who was either absent or did not vote.
A major bill for women that passed this year was the Sexual Assault Kit Processing Amendments, designated HB 200. The law directs all physical evidence gathered in criminal investigations of reported rapes be turned over to, and processed in, the state’s crime lab. Proponents of the bill, however, argued that the $1.2 million earmarked for the legislation is only about half of what is needed. Southern Utah legislators all voted for the amendments except for Hinkins, who was either absent or did not vote.
Doxing Prohibition Amendments, designated SB 227, make “doxing” a misdemeanor crime. Doxing is when a person disseminates someone’s personal information online with the malicious intent that it will be shared and used to harass that person. If it repeatedly happens, the new law calls for the charge to be increased to a third-degree felony, carrying a possible prison sentence. Southern Utah legislators all voted for the amendments except for Okerlund, who was either absent or did not vote; Okerlund did, however, support the legislation at an earlier stage in the process.
In an effort to protect children and inform parents, legislators approved a law that will create a Child Abuse Offender Registry, designated HB 149, similar to that of a sex offender registry. Anyone convicted of felony child abuse or human trafficking is required to register under the new law. Southern Utah legislators all voted for the registry.
A bill designated HB 433, Penalty For Targeting Law Enforcement Officer, passed, defining the targeting of police officers with a list of acts of mass destruction that qualify a homicide as aggravated murder. The law also adds language to Utah Code that defines the targeting of an officer as “unlawful use of force and violence,” against the officer, “causing serious bodily injury or death in furtherance of political or social objectives in order to intimidate or coerce a civilian population or to influence or affect the conduct of a government or a unit of government.” The measure was pushed in response to recent attacks on law enforcement throughout the country. The sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, said he wanted to send a clear message that malicious motives against police officers in Utah will be seriously punished under the state’s laws. Southern Utah legislators all voted for the penalty law.
Protection of Law Enforcement Officers’ Personal Information, designated as SB 31 and sponsored by Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, sought to keep the address and phone numbers of law enforcement officers – including corrections officers – and their immediate family members private if the officers so opted. An amended version of Ipson’s bill passed the House by a vote of 70-2 and was returned to the Senate, where it was passed unanimously. Read more here. Southern Utah legislators all voted for the bill.
In the wake of challenges from media and civil rights groups, the Utah Legislature cleared the way for the public to obtain body camera footage more easily with the enrollment of its Law Enforcement Body Camera Footage bill, designated HB 381. The new law allows direct appeals to district court if police or prosecutors reject a public record request for body-camera footage because of pending criminal action, allowing a judge to weigh both public interest and the protection of the information for future evidence. The bill comes after video footage of the shooting of then-17-year-old Abdullahi “Abdi” Mohamed was held by Salt Lake County prosecutors for nearly a year before they finally released it to the public for the first time in January while in court. Southern Utah legislators all voted for the bill.
In this report, the presumption of bills passed becoming new laws is dependent upon the governor not vetoing the legislation. Gov. Gary Herbert has until March 29 to sign or not sign (in either case, the bills passed become law) or to veto a bill. If he vetoes a bill, it returns to the Legislature for possible override consideration.
St. George News assistant editor Paul Dail and senior reporter Mori Kessler, reporters Cody Blowers, Julie Applegate, Kimberly Scott and Joseph Witham contributed to this series of articles.
- Southern Utah Sens. Ralph Okerlund, Don Ipson, Evan Vickers and David Hinkins | Listing of all senators.
- Southern Utah Reps. Walt Brooks, Merrill Nelson, Brad Last, John Westwood, Mike Noel, V. Lowry Snow and Jon Stanard | Listing of all members of the House of Representatives.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.