A bill that would make it easier to crack down on escorts suspected of soliciting sex without an undercover investigation to prove it is advancing in the Utah Legislature.
HB258 is headed to a vote of the full House after clearing the House Business and Labor Committee on Monday on a 10-1 vote.
The bill “would allow law enforcement to make an arrest for someone who doesn’t have a business license rather than requiring an undercover officer to solicit a sex act for money," sponsoring Rep. Jeffrey Stenquist, R-Draper, told The Tribune.
Escorts already are required to have a sexually oriented business license in any city in which they work. But violation of the licensing law is only a Class B misdemeanor, with a maximum possible six-month jail sentence and $1,000 fine. HB258 would increase the violation to a Class A misdemeanor, subjecting an offender to up to a one-year jail sentence and $2,500 fine.
Salt Lake City Police Lt. Stefhan Bennett said in an interview that HB258 would put escorting without a license on a par with giving a massage without a license.
“It’s more illegal [under current law] for you to act as an unlicensed masseuse than for you to act as an unlicensed escort," said Bennett.
That discrepancy means that acting as an escort without a license rarely leads to an arrest, but usually results in citations that are often ignored with impunity and in some cases multiple tickets against the same escort, Bennett said.
While licensed escorting is legal in the state of Utah and not defined as prostitution, Bennett said the elevated penalties in HB258 could act as a deterrent for illegal trafficking. “One issue we have with human trafficking is that some of the people involved in the escort business will use [online classified ads] and act independently without a license.”
Bennett says the legislation would aid smaller law-enforcement agencies that “do not have a dedicated organized crime or vice unit,” and the resources to conduct undercover solicitation stings. He said the capital city’s police department is not specifically advocating for the legislation.