After spirited debate about whether it violates the constitutional right of assembly, the Senate voted 16-10 Wednesday to allow arresting gang members if they hang out in "gang-free zones."

Rep. Jon Greiner, R-Ogden, who is also the Ogden police chief, pushed SB75. It allows police chiefs or sheriffs to designate gang free zones where known gang members could be asked by police to leave.

If gang members return within eight hours, they could be charged with a misdemeanor.

Greiner said it could diffuse situations such as an incident in Ogden last year where police did not have enough legal power to disburse loitering gang members. He said a 15-year-old illegal alien later shot and killed a 22-year-old gang member there.

But several senators worried aloud about targeting only gang members, while allowing anyone else to stay in such areas.

"Typically, we have not created crimes of status, only crimes of action. You have to do something wrong," said Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights.

Senate President John Valentine worried the bill could start a slippery slope of also passing laws limiting where such people as those previously convicted of sex crimes or drunken driving may venture.

Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, wondered aloud whether if such a law had existed in 1776 as the American revolution began, "Would we still be singing 'God Bless the Queen' today?"

Greiner said no, because the founding fathers would not have met federal definitions of street gangs. But Stephenson said the early rebels were considered the equivalent of gangs by the British.

Greiner said the bill was not onerous because it asks gang members simply to leave an area for eight hours. But Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, said it creates the threat of arrest, which is onerous.

While the bill passed, Valentine — who said he voted for it with reservations — said he will watch it carefully. He said if it is used improperly, he will push to repeal it. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.

Another anti-gang bill by Greiner had a much easier time on Wednesday.

The Senate unanimously passed SB65 to make it a misdemeanor to solicit someone to join a street gang, or to try to prevent a member from leaving a gang.

"More than 20 states have something similar, and this is Utah's first attempt at it," Greiner told the Senate in earlier debate on Thursday.

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