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SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers dealt with a varied set of proposals for law enforcement and criminal justice reforms during their 45-day period of policy debates.
Several bills clarified offenses or provided additional protections to police officers, while others sought criminal justice reforms.
HB433, sponsored by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, was among the efforts to protect police officers through expanded criminal punishments.
The bill makes the homicide of a police officer an automatic offense of aggravated murder. It also amends the charge of aggravated assault on a police officer, making it a first-degree felony.
Ray also called for increased scrutiny for law enforcement agencies, and he successfully ran a bill, HB381, to hasten the release of police officers' body-camera footage.
The bodycam legislation gained attention alongside the police shooting case of Abdullah 'Abdi' Mohamed, a 17-year-old who was wounded during an incident near the homeless shelter downtown. The young man's case received added attention amid stalled efforts to release the footage surrounding the event.
The legislation allows people to directly appeal a denial of access to bodycam footage.
Lawmakers rejected a bill, HB306, that called for a "cooling off" period of as much as 180 days before the names of officers involved in critical incidents are released.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Mark McKell, R-Spanish Fork, suggested that officers often see targeted backlash from the public when their names are released. His fellow lawmakers gave mixed support, and the bill never saw a vote from the full body of either the House or the Senate.
Another bill that stalled during the session, HB428, would have applied murder charges to fleeing suspects if their actions resulted in the death of a police officer.
Domestic violence and abuse
Lawmakers moved on a series of policies addressing domestic violence.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, worked with both the firearms community and those aiming to prevent domestic violence as he proposed HB206. The bill places firearms restrictions on people who have committed aggravated assault or have had protective orders placed against them.
"A lot of people generally on the Second Amendment side of these issues worked with me and helped me," King said when he first presented the bill to a House Committee. The bill received bipartisan support throughout the session and easily passed in both the House and Senate.
The legislative session saw further discussions on domestic abuse, particularly child abuse, as lawmakers considered creating a child-abuse offender registry similar to Utah's existing sex-offender registry.
Lawmakers affectionately titled their call for a child-abuse registry "Miley's Bill" in honor of a girl who was severely shaken as a baby and left with life-altering medical conditions.
It's the type of abuse lawmakers hope to curb through HB149. The Legislature passed the measure, placing convicted child-abuse offenders on a registry that includes their names, addresses and places of work.
Criminal justice reform
The 2017 Legislature included lengthy discussion on reforming standards for juvenile and criminal justice.
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, received wide praise from his House colleagues as they passed HB239, a bill that favors tiered punishments for correcting juvenile offenders.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said the existing system of juvenile detentions often hurt low-level offenders placed in the same detention groups as more serious offenders.
"We have a really, really hard time getting them back after they have spent six months making good friends with some really, really tough, bad personalities," Hutchings said in support of HB239.
Further easements of criminal justice standards came with the implementation of a DUI program under HB250, which enables offenders to maintain their driver's license through a program that allows them to pay about $10 to offer a breathalyzer test twice daily to prove their sobriety.
Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, said the bill would reduce repeat offenses and allow drivers to keep their lives on track by maintaining transportation needed for employment.
Lawmakers also passed HB161, a bill that aims to prevent panhandling on freeway on- and off-ramps by banning the hand-to-hand transfer of money from vehicles to pedestrians.
Sponsor Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said his bill promotes safety by forcing people to panhandle in safe locations.
Eliason said that while banning the request or donation of money would be a First Amendment violation, the language of the bill simply moves the behavior to locations with a reduced risk of vehicles hitting pedestrians.