The Senate on Tuesday cited a GOP caucus position when it took back its revision to a House bill that creates state criminal penalties for human trafficking and smuggling.

HB339 had been amended Monday before initial Senate approval to reduce the crime of human smuggling from a second degree felony to a Class A misdemeanor, in order to coordinate with a provision in SB81, a comprehensive bill dealing with illegal immigration.

On Tuesday, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, said the entire closed GOP caucus had wanted the change, except for Majority Leader Curt Bramble, R-Provo.

The misdemeanor provision had been an agreement reached by Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, and the bill's sponsor, Rep. Christopher Herrod, R-Provo, in order to garner the support needed to move the bill from committee to a Senate vote. Romero made clear his frustration at that agreement "being revoked."

Senate Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, also expressed concerns at the political maneuvering.

"Sen. Romero talked to Rep. Herrod in a true and honest-to-goodness way to solve this problem," he said. "To take this so late in the session, and take a caucus position. It sets a bad example."

The arguments against Romero's amendment centered around the severity of human trafficking as modern day slavery. Sen. Carlene Walker, R-Cottonwood Heights, said the committee's agreement does not mean the entire Senate needs to follow suit.

"I don't think I could in good conscious vote for this as a misdemeanor, when here we are talking about making animal torture a felony," she said.

However, under Romero's amendment, human trafficking for forced labor or sexual exploitation would still have been a second degree felony. And both crimes would be aggravated to a first degree felony if they involved death of a smuggled or trafficked person or if they involved sex crimes or victims held against their will for more than 180 days.

Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, sponsor of SB81, said, "I certainly am not trying to find fault with Sen. Romero ... The problem that we had was, quite frankly, we felt that it really should be a second degree felony."

The Senate has yet to give its final approval to HB339.


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