A proposed bill that would impose stricter punishment on habitual criminals has been unanimously approved by the Utah Legislative Judiciary Interim Committee.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Drew W. Daniels, D-Salem, provides for minimum mandatory sentences for habitual criminals convicted of first degree felonies. It will be presented to the Legislature in January.The bill makes prosecution of habitual criminals less costly for taxpayers, Daniels said.

Under the present system, the habitual criminal must be tried in two phases. He must be tried for the felony charge and a second time for the habitual criminal offense. This requires additional trial days for both the prosecutor and the defense lawyer - both attorneys are paid by the government. The two-phase trial also costs additional jury and court personnel time, Daniels said.

"This bill would allow prosecution of habitual criminals in one trial," he told lawmakers.

James Housley, Executive Director of the Statewide Association of Prosecutors, reported to members of the Judiciary Interim Committee that most crimes are committed by a small number of criminals. Stricter penalities should be imposed on this group, he said.

Housely said prosecutors support Daniel's proposed legislation because the cost of incarcerating repeat offenders is more than justified.