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A bill that would lower the age difference for the crime of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor who is 16 or 17 years passed a House committee Wednesday.
HB57, sponsored by Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, would decrease the age difference from 10 years to seven years. The punishment for committing the offense remains the same: a third-degree felony if the couple engages in sexual penetration, or a class A misdemeanor if sexual touching occurs.
"This is a bill to protect the youth of the state," Greenwood told The Tribune.
He said that currently a 26-year-old could knock on a family's door to pick up a 16-year-old for a date.
"A person, and it's usually a man, with all that life experience shows up on a family's doorstep to date a young lady who just got her driver license," Greenwood said. "There's a manipulation issue that can be introduced here."
Greenwood's bill seeks to criminalize sexual acts occurring between a 16-year-old and someone who is 23 or older; or between a 17-year-old and someone 24 or older.
He said when the current law came into effect in 1998, the age difference wasn't established by any scientific study, but rather what legislators thought would be reasonable. He said after more than a dozen years of studying the effect of that decision, it's time to tighten the age difference.
Rod Layton, a retired police officer who formed and headed the Northern Utah Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, testified in support of the bill.
"You have a 16- or 17-year-old girl whose biggest decision in a day is whether she should go to first or second lunch compared to a type of person who could have had four years in the military, four years in college and two years in the work force. There's no comparison in the life experiences of the two," Layton said. "A 16-year-old girl looking for knight in shining armor to sweep off feet and he's looking for recreational sex."
The bill passed the committee unanimously and heads to the House floor for further debate.