Somewhere on the streets of Salt Lake City tonight as many as six known AIDS-carrying prostitutes will be plying their trade, passing the deadly infection to untold numbers of customers.
Prostitution is a crime in Utah, a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in the county jail. But passing the AIDS virus is not a crime.This year Utah lawmakers will consider a bill making it a felony to knowingly transmit the AIDS virus, giving law-enforcement officials an additional tool to stem the growing AIDS problem. And the bill would also allow prosecutors to charge the customer with the same felony offense.
The bill, patterned after a Colorado law, is one of more than a dozen get-tough-on-crime bills before the 1991 Utah Legislature that will address such controversial issues as making it a felony offense to rape a spouse, to assault a police officer or to leave the scene of any accident. Another bill would enable adults to prosecute those who sexually assaulted them as children.
"I know I don't feel safe in my own home," said Rep. Joanne Milner, D-Salt Lake, who has sponsored several crime bills and lives in one of the city's most crime-infested neighborhoods.
"We are a violent society indifferent to acts of violence. There is a serial rapist loose in our neighborhood, there are thefts and burglaries and prostitution. Where you find one vice you find another. It's a package deal that breeds violence."
Law and order has traditionally been a true-blue, conservative Republican issue on Capitol Hill. But this year, it is liberal Democrats taking the lead on some of the toughest crime bills to face the Legislature in years.
"Crime is a social problem that hits the poor and elderly the hardest," said House Minority Leader Frank Pignanelli. "These bills are tough on crime, but they fit well within the Democratic platform."
Among the law and order legislation to be considered this year are bills that would:
- Create a new homicide statute to make it a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison to beat someone to death, even if the perpetrator didn't mean to kill the victim. Currently, such offenses are prosecuted as Class A misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in jail.
- Allow the prosecution of those who rape their spouse. Current Utah law does not recognize spousal rape. A competing bill would create a task force of women's advocacy groups and prosecutors to study the issue.
- Use 40 percent of the money confiscated in drug arrests for drug therapy and prevention programs.
- Extend the statute of limitation on child sexual assault cases to four years after the date of discovery. That would enable adults, who may reveal they were sexually assaulted as children, to prosecute upon reporting the offense to police or revealing it to therapists, who are by law required to report such cases.
"As many as one-fourth to one-third of the population are victims of sexual assault, and many cannot deal with the emotional and mental devastation until they are adults. This bill offers them the opportunity to seek some kind of restitution from the perpetrator," Milner said.
- Prevent all sexual offenses from being expunged from a person's record, thereby allowing school districts to know about all past convictions.
One Utah school district recently hired a man, not knowing that his past convictions for child sexual assault had been expunged from his record. He then began assaulting children in the school.
- Make it a Class A misdemeanor upon the second conviction for prostitution. That would allow authorities to jail prostitutes for up to a year, rather than the six months currently allowed.
- Make it a third-degree felony to assault a police officer. Current law allows prosecution only as a misdemeanor. This bill is a top priority of Utah rank-and-file police officers.
- Make certain kinds of aggravated assault a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, rather than the five years currently allowed.
Other bills address toughening civil penalties for shoplifting, making it more difficult for judges to sentence offenders to less than the law allows and making it a criminal offense to mistreat or neglect animals, among others.
Most of the bills are sponsored by House Democrats while a handful are sponsored by Republicans.
"The justice system has gone too far toward protecting the rights of the criminal, all at the expense of the victim," said Milner, one of the most liberal members of the House.