Stock image
A proposal to strengthen Utah law against human trafficking cleared another hurdle on Monday.

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposal to strengthen Utah law against human trafficking cleared another hurdle on Monday.

The legislative measure advanced in a unanimous vote from a Senate panel.

The proposed move would help prosecutors pursue heftier sentences for offenders who traffic vulnerable adults, meaning those over age 65, or those who have a substantial impairment, said Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City.

Under the measure, smuggling a vulnerable adult for forced labor or sexual exploitation would be a first-degree felony, punishable by up to life in prison. Child trafficking now carries the same penalty.

Comment on this story

A recent Utah case illustrated the existing gap in the state's law, assistant Utah attorney general Dan Strong told members of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee. A man trafficked a vulnerable adult in Utah and was convicted, but the offense was a second-degree felony, which carries a maximum of 15 years in prison. The victim's mother did not attend the Monday hearing but Strong said she supports the bill.

The measure would also clarify that anyone who knowingly benefits from the smuggling of a child for forced labor or sexual exploitation can be criminally charged, and there is no statute of limitation on child trafficking.

Tom Ross with the Utah Chiefs of Police Association said his group believes the proposal is a good idea.