ST. GEORGE — Out of 75 voters, Southern Utah lawmaker Phil Lyman, R-Blanding, was the sole representative to vote no on the Juvenile Offender Penalty Amendments legislation. However, following the bill’s unanimous passage in the Senate – and the near-unanimous passage in the House – the legislation is heading to the governor for his signature.
Sponsored by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, SB 50 was spurred by the story of a woman who was charged as an adult for a sexual offense she committed when she was 14 years old, but the complaint against the woman was not made until she was an adult.
“She spent 10 years in a state prison and was registered as a sex offender because of something she did as a child,” Thatcher told a Senate committee on Jan. 21.
“Let’s be clear, we’re not changing what juvenile punishments should be,” he continued. “We’re not getting into changing what juvenile punishments are, or should be. This is 100% about trying to ensure that a person faces the appropriate level of punishment, based on the age of the offender at the time of the offense.”
Lyman told St. George News he felt the bill compromised a judge’s ability to sentence offenders according to their crimes.
“As it’s written, the bill feels too prescriptive,” Lyman said. “I think that a judge should have more leeway in their judgments. A difference makes a difference.”
Rep. Travis Seegmiller, R-St. George, who is a member of the House Judiciary Committee – along with St. George Rep. Lowry Snow – heard the bill before it went to the full house.
The committee gave SB 50 a unanimous favorable recommendation, and Seegmiller would go on to vote in favor of the bill in the full House.
“It’s an interesting bill,” he said, adding that SB 50 “tries to walk that fine line” between being tough on crime – which he said he believes in – while also helping young people avoid having their whole lives ruined for an indiscretion.
Sometimes, these kids just made a stupid mistake, Seegmiller said.
“For justice to truly be served, they don’t need to be locked up for the rest of their lives. To me, that’s what SB-50 is trying to avoid.”
While Lyman voted no, he added that it was a soft “no.”
“This is a tough issue to legislate,” he said. “I’ve spoken with lots of victims advocates. There are bad actors out there, and they should be held accountable. It’s the judges who make sure justice is served.”
For Thatcher, the bill boils down to making sure the penalty fits the crime.
“If you are a child when you do something wrong, you face a certain level of punishment,” Thatcher said. “If you are an adult, you face a different level of punishment. In Utah, we call that justice.”
The bill passed the House by a vote of 70-1 and next goes to the governor for his signature.
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