State public safety and corrections officials will be shepherding a few measures when the Legislature convenes Monday, but they describe most bills they are interested in as housekeeping items.
"I've got eight bills on my desk that we've already drafted," said corrections spokesman Dave Franchina. "Most of them would be what we would call cleanup legislation."Policies and procedures the Corrections Department believes need legislative intent to back them up include procedures for contracting with mental health providers and guidelines for parceling out the belongings of an inmate who dies.
"We're not asking for enhancements for the criminal code," Franchina said. "Overall it will be a low-profile year for Corrections" in the Legislature.
The department is backing a request Franchina said is also supported by Gov. Norm Ban-gerter to consolidate the two existing community corrections centers in Ogden into one new center at the site of the Ogden Community Corrections Center at 949 Washington Blvd.
With approximately $6.5 million from the Legislature for construction, Corrections could abandon the second, rented facility and build a new multistory center on the ground the state already owns. The change would replace 60 existing beds with 150 beds and 12 holding cells. Operating expenses would remain about the same because of increased efficiency, Franchina said.
Corrections also favors a bill sponsored by Sen. Dixie Leavitt, R-Cedar City, that mandates notification for crime victims if the offender is released to the custody of a program outside the prison. The bill would also require corrections officials to notify a victim if the offender escapes, if the victim signs a written request in advance requesting the notification.
The bill includes a disclaimer that precludes the department from civil or criminal liability if it fails to notify a victim, unless the failure is willful or grossly negligent.
"At present, those who qualify under the statute as a victim and fall under the Board of Pardons jurisdictions are notified of upcoming parole hearings," said Crystal Albertoni, the board's victim coordinator. If the bill passes, victims would be notified of the changes in their rights when they are notified of the offender's parole hearing dates.
State public safety officials are promoting as many as 15 bills that will affect operations. "Some of them will be weighty and some will just be cleanup," said Deputy Director Brant Johnson.
On the top of Public Safety's list is a bill, now on its second lap through the Legislature, that would increase driver's license renewal fees from the current $10 to $15. Better service at license renewal stations is promised with the fee increase.
"It's the same issue as last year, but it has more steam now," Johnson said.
The department also supports a measure that would allow more motorists to renew their driver's license through the mail. Utah's point system for driving violations keeps motorists from registering through the mail if they have accumulated 50 points on their driving record.
"One speeding violation now, and you can't renew by mail," Johnson said. But with the limit bumped to 60 points, as the proposed legislation would facilitate, drivers who have only one driving citation in four years could still register through the mail.
Housecleaning items include abandoning a requirement for burglar alarm installers to be licensed contractors - because a person cannot get a license in Utah as a burglar alarm installer - and downgrading the offense for possessing a dangerous weapon from a Class A misdemeanor to a Class B misdemeanor. The weapons violation change would allow officers to issue citations for the offense rather than having to screen the case and have charges brought by a county attorney, Johnson said.
Public Safety's lobbying efforts with the Legislature are backed by a combined Law Enforcement Legislative Committee made up of a variety of law enforcement groups in the state, according to chairman Wayne Shepherd, police chief at the University of Utah. "We study the issue and generally agree" on legislative items the group will support, Shepherd said. "In 18 years I can only think of three issues we couldn't agree on."