SALT LAKE CITY — People with repeat offenses of patronizing a prostitute could be charged with a class A misdemeanor under a bill endorsed Wednesday by a Utah Senate committee.

A check of state and municipal court records revealed that 12 people had recent convictions for patronizing a prostitute, said Rick Schwermer, assistant state court administrator.

"The pool of folks who would be repeat offenders is really small," Schwermer said.

"I wonder if this a solution in search of a problem," said Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, during a meeting of the Senate Judiciary Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.

Nonetheless, Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, said he believes enhanced penalties may be needed for people who don't learn their lesson the first time they offend.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, sponsor of SB160, said he was asked by prosecutors and police to carry the legislation.

"I've never utilized this type of service. I have no idea what kind of return rate these folks have," Stevenson said.

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While the total number of cases suggests "there's not a big problem, maybe all six were in the same community. If they were, that's a problem," he said.

Stevenson likened the enhanced penalty to parking a police car in front of a business. Having the law on the books may act as a deterrent.

"It seems like a reasonable bill," he said.

The bill also would amend state statute to refer to people patronizing prostitutes in a gender-neutral manner. The criminal code presently refers to suspected offenders as "he." SB160 changes the language to "the person."

Marjorie Cortez