The Utah House rejected an attempt to require witnesses of certain crimes to call for assistance or become criminals themselves.
Rep. Brian King, a Salt Lake City Democrat and leader of the House minority party, said his HB125 would have possibly saved lives and allowed prosecutors to punish anyone who witnesses a crime, including sexual assault, but fails to help the victim.
He hoped the Republican-controlled House would expand the law that protects minors and vulnerable adults to also protect those in harm’s way.
“When you’re talking about someone who’s being assaulted sexually, when you’re talking about someone who’s being assaulted by their partner in a marriage or a relationship, when you’re talking about someone who’s been thrown from a car in an accident, they are very much as vulnerable as a minor child or a vulnerable adult,” King said.
Inaction by witnesses if they themselves weren’t in danger and if no one else called for assistance would be a class B misdemeanor under the bill.
Several Republican lawmakers, some of whom are attorneys, said they were wary that the bill was a departure from centuries of criminal law.
Instead of punishing people for their bad actions, people could be punished for inaction, they said.
“This is a very significant and drastic deviation from traditional principles of criminal law,” said Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville.
“While I like the idea of sending a message to the state that we need to step up and we need to be good [Samaritans], I’m just not to the point where I think we need to legislate it,” said Rep. Kelly Miles, R-Ogden. “Not only legislate it, but attach a criminal penalty to it.”
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, brought a guest to the floor who he said stepped in after seeing two men apparently trying to attack a woman who had a child in her car.
Noel’s guest beat up the two men before the woman started attacking her would-be rescuer, Noel said. The men were arrested, but Noel said the situation was an example illustrating why someone may not want to step in for fear that they don’t know the full picture.
King said he’d tried to present a narrow bill that would compel people to be good Samaritans. It’s what lawmakers would want of witnesses if they were in trouble, he said.
Lawmakers voted against the measure 51-20.