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SALT LAKE CITY — Drug dealing within 100 feet of a homeless shelter could be prosecuted as a felony under a bill passed Thursday by the Utah House of Representatives.
The latest version of HB365 was approved on a vote of 42-30 and sent to the Senate for its consideration.
While many House members spoke about the need to protect vulnerable people staying at homeless shelters, some of whom are recovering addicts, others questioned whether with already limited jail beds if the bill would achieve its intended effect.
“I’m not sure what this is really going to do," said Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield. "The problem is, I don’t see the county sheriff asking the (Salt Lake) County Council for more money."
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, acknowledged the bill alone was "not a silver bullet" but part of the solution in improving conditions and safety in and around homeless shelters.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, has worked extensively on criminal justice initiatives that have lowered penalties and encouraged treatment for people who would benefit more from help than jail time.
However, there is a "bright line" between people who are trapped in the misery of addiction and people who make their living selling drugs, Hutchings said.
"There is no mercy for that," he said.
Under the legislation, facilities that serve people experiencing homelessness would join public schools, public parks, library grounds or church grounds as places where drug distribution can result in enhanced criminal penalties.
"I’m just offering this as one piece of the puzzle and asking for your support," Briscoe said.