House OKs bill to enhance penalties for drug dealing near homeless shelters

First Published      Last Updated Mar 06 2017 01:56 pm

The Utah House passed a bill aimed at slowing down the distribution of illegal drugs near homeless shelters by bumping up penalties.

HB365 would enhance the charge for selling or distributing illegal drugs in or near homeless resource centers. The expected result — sending more people to jail and prison — sparked debate in a Legislature that in recent years has focused on decreasing sentences for drug crimes in favor of more treatment.

Several representatives expressed skepticism HB365 would help get illegal drugs off Salt Lake City streets.

Sponsor of the bill, Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, countered that while it would not resolve the problem, it was still a "piece to the puzzle."

Briscoe explained that, because of limited jail space, prosecutors target cartel drug sellers as opposed to drug addicts.

Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, agreed, saying those that sell drugs are preying on the homeless and creating more addicts.

Despite the controversy, the bill passed 42-30 and now goes to the Senate.

— Jessica Banuelos