A bill to impose harsher sentences on career criminals found it tough going on Capitol Hill Thursday, surviving a committee vote only because an opponent to the bill voted in favor of the bill to give it the chance to be debated by all 75 members of the House.
In a 6-4 vote, lawmakers gave a favorable recommendation to HB40, a bill that would allow prosecutors to charge career criminals (those previously convicted of two or more other felonies) with offenses carrying enhanced prison terms.For example, if a career criminal commits a third-degree felony - an offense normally punishable by 0-to-5 years in prison - he would instead be charged with a second-degree felony punishable by 1-to-15 years in prison.
If he commits a second-degree felony, he could be charged with a first-degree felony punishable by five years to life in prison. If he is charged with a first-degree felony, tough minimum-mandatory sentences would apply.
"This Legislature stands for social values condemning a life of crime," said Rep. JoAnne Milner, D-Salt Lake, the bill's sponsor. "This bill is a safety net for incorrigibles."
Department of Corrections Executive Director Gary DeLand had no objections to the bill, saying the prison could handle the increased load.
Opponents to the bill argued, though, that it doesn't make sense to send people to prison for longer periods of time when the prisons are overcrowded already.
"We ought to give them the chance for rehabilitation. There's enough new criminals coming on line anyway," said Rep. Scott Holt, R-Syracuse.
Currently, the state's career-criminal statute allows prosecutors to charge the offender with a separate "habitual criminal" crime, an offense carrying a zero-to-5-year sentence.