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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would add counterfeit drug manufacturing to Utah’s criminal code, as well as adjustments to address online harassment, is one step closer to becoming law.
The amended SB43, a criminal code reforms bill, passed through the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee unanimously Friday and was set to go to the House floor for further discussion and vote. A previous version of the bill passed through the Utah Senate with a 24-4-1 vote on Feb. 21.
Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, the bill’s sponsor, testified in front of the committee that the bill was inspired by pill presses found in recent local drug raids and the opioid problems that have the struck the state in recent years. The most memorable of those was a large-scale pill press found during a raid of a Cottonwood Heights home in 2016.
If passed, counterfeit opiate pills and imitation THC products to the list of drugs illegal to manufacture in Utah’s statute.
“We have this huge problem with counterfeit opiate pills and it is an epidemic,” she said. “These are very prominent in our community, so now we have put those two (as) illegal drugs.”
The change has the support of multiple Utah law officials. Scott Reed, the state’s assistant attorney general, said it would address Utah’s opioid crisis.
“As you all know, the presence of fentanyl in our community is both lethal and growing,” he told the committee. “Pill press operations are lacing virtually everything in the world with that drug and it’s a principle cause for drug overdoses in our country.”
Marshall Thompson, director of the Utah Sentencing Commission, and Will Carlson, Salt Lake County deputy district attorney, as well as Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, the bill's floor sponsor, also supported the bill Friday.
Pill press operations are lacing virtually everything in the world with that drug and it’s a principle cause for drug overdoses in our country.
–Scott Reed, Utah assistant attorney general
There are other criminal reforms the bill would addresses. One reform adds lines to include doxing, which is when someone publishes someone else’s personal information — such as phone number or home address — online.
The bill states anyone “who electronically published, posts or otherwise discloses personal identifying information of another individual in a public online site or forum with the intent to abuse, threaten or disrupt the other individual’s electronic communication and without the other individual’s permission is guilty of electronic communication harassment.”
Currently, electronic communication harassment is a Class B misdemeanor and electronic communication harassment against a minor is a Class A misdemeanor, according to Utah’s criminal code. It can be a third-degree felony for multiple offenders.
“This is so prevalent — just go to your high school, talk to your teenagers, talk to anyone. This electronic (communication) is a gift and it’s an evil, too,” Mayne said. “We really need to stay on top of this.”
Carlson said it’s difficult for the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office to file criminal charges in many online harassment cases based on the current code.
“By adding the terms 'of frighten' and 'harass' as an intent someone must have, it more closely aligns not just with the title of the code but it closely aligns the statute with what it has been for the last four decades,” he said. “This was an inadvertent deletion two years ago that is being reinstated.”
Another reform would make someone who failed to return a marriage license an infraction instead of Class B misdemeanor.
It wasn’t immediately clear when Utah’s House of Representatives will vote on SB43. If passed, it would go to Gov. Gary Herbert’s desk for signing.