Proposal to help police fight human trafficking moves forward at the Utah Legislature

Proposal to help police fight human trafficking moves forward at the Utah Legislature

(Kristin Murphy, KSL)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Those found guilty of sex trafficking in Utah would be required to register as sex offenders under a proposal advancing at the state Capitol.

“This will be adding on to what we’re doing with sexual assault and domestic violence,” the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Angela Romero, told members of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.

The panel voted unanimously Friday to send HB291 to the full House.

Utah law requires those found guilty of charges like rape, sexual abuse of a child and kidnapping to provide information, including their addresses, to the Utah Department of Corrections, which runs a registry of those offenders. But the law has no such requirement for those convicted of sex trafficking charges.

Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said her bill would also require new police officers in Utah to receive training in spotting and responding to human trafficking when they earn their credentials through Peace Officer Standards and Training.

Romero previously sponsored a 2017 law that mandated training for law enforcers on best practices for interviewing victims of sexual assault or abuse in order to avoid further traumatizing them. The measure also required evidence collected in each and every rape kit to be tested for DNA and potentially linked to a suspect through a law enforcement database.

Then in 2019, the Utah Legislature passed another law that strengthened the penalty for trafficking a vulnerable adult, making the offense a first-degree felony.

On Friday, Romero said her new bill will build on the existing laws to ensure victims of sex crimes and human trafficking get justice in the courts.

Kaytlin Beckett with the Utah Attorney General’s Office told lawmakers on the House panel that the training would also be made available to officers who are already working in the state and want to learn how to better investigate cases of human smuggling for labor or sex.

Beckett was the only law enforcement representative to testify Friday about the bill.

Rep. Kelly Miles, R-South Ogden, praised Romero’s effort before voting in favor of the proposal.

“It appears that these updates and changes are very appropriate with what we’re trying to accomplish as a state, and making this a serious offense, and making sure that those that are participating in this are punished accordingly,” he said.

If approved by the full House, the bill will advance to the Senate. Utah lawmakers adjourn their 2020 legislative session on March 12.

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