A House panel on Wednesday took the first step toward creating a state felony penalty for human trafficking and smuggling.
The House Law Enforcement Committee gave unanimous support to HB339 after its sponsor, Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, said the measure is different from a slate of bills aimed at illegal immigration he is supporting.
Human smuggling involves people paying to be transported across a border, while in human trafficking, people are duped into perpetual servitude. Herrod said smuggling often leads to trafficking, when individuals are lured by a job promise and "end up in a foreign country without a passport or owing back amounts."
The two crimes are already a focus of federal prosecution, and Herrod said, "it gets us in line with federal laws and gives law enforcement another tool to fight this."
Rep. David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, who has sponsored human trafficking legislation in the past, supported the bill, though he said he was uncomfortable with the bill's co-mingling of human trafficking and smuggling.
"When it comes to immigration there's a lot of shades of grey," Litvack said. "Human trafficking, to me there are no shades of grey. This is modern day slavery ... it is absolutely shameful that this continues to happen."