SALT LAKE CITY — Children and teens joining online chat forums and social networks may be further protected from online predators.
Utah lawmakers Wednesday debated the language of a bill that would penalize anyone who “entices” a minor through electronic means, including text messaging.
“The definitions were out of date in relation to technological advancements,” said Rep. Curt Webb, R-Logan, sponsor of HB31.
The bill passed in the House 58-16 and now moves to the Senate.
HB31 seeks to modify the criminal code, clarifying that the offense of enticing a minor doesn’t include intent to complete a sexual offense with a minor. The penalties for enticing a minor, the bill states, “are based on the level of sexual conduct the actor solicits, seduces, lures or entices, or attempts to solicit, seduce, lure or entice a minor to engage in.”
Debate Wednesday revolved around terminology.
“Can we guard against innocent people who are saying things that could be interpreted one way or another way?” asked Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City. “What does the term, ‘entice’ really entail?”
“That's up to the courts to decide,” said Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, who has worked in law enforcement for more than 40 years.
Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem, asked if the courts and law enforcement would have discretion in how the crime is defined. Layton said she's concerned the bill would allow the criminalizing of communications of a suggestive nature between teens in high school who are boyfriend and girlfriend.
“If a non-minor to a minor includes an 18-year-old to a 17-year-old, how is it that a person can get married at the minimum age of 15 without some enticing happening?” she asked.
“Am I an attorney who can answer all of your questions? No,” Webb said. “But this bill is needed to solve a very serious problem.”