Politics • Report says changes to statutes will cost state agencies $1.8 million this fiscal year.
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Let your pig run wild and you could be charged with a misdemeanor. Shoot off fireworks at the wrong time and you risk being charged with an infraction, rather than a misdemeanor.
And here's a heads up: A political action or political issues committee that fails to file a financial report before the municipal general election could be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $583.
Utah lawmakers tinkered with more than 73 criminal statutes during the 2012 session, adding new crimes, amending others and increasing or decreasing penalties for some, according to a report released Wednesday by the Utah Sentencing Commission. That's more than twice the number of adjustments to criminal statutes made in each of the previous five years.
The changes will cost state agencies $1.8 million this fiscal year in lost revenue or new administrative costs, says the report given to the criminal justice interim committee. The figure does not include ongoing costs or expenses to county and local governments.
Most of that sum is the result of an increase in the rate paid to county jails to house and treat state inmates. Jacey Skinner, Utah Sentencing Commission director, told the committee that each time an offense level is increased, "you increase the likelihood that someone will be sentenced to prison," and that means more expense for the state in occupied cells, court time and probation supervision.
"When we look at the whole picture, when we look at corrections planning for growth in the future, it's because we've created new offenses, we've enhanced penalties, people will be staying longer, more people will be going to prison," Skinner said. "It's important that we keep those things in mind."
One example: On average, a person sentenced to a third-degree felony crime involving another person spends an average of 27.5 months in prison, while someone convicted of a first-degree felony spends an average of 98.5 months locked up.
"As you increase penalties, even [for the] same conduct, there is an increasing likelihood the person will go to prison and for a much longer time," Skinner said.
In one instance, lawmakers reacted to a high-profile tragedy by creating a new crime: leaving the scene of a boating accident in which a person has died is now a third-degree felony.
Esther Fujimoto, 49, died on Aug. 21, 2011, after being struck by a boat while swimming in Pineview Reservoir. The boat did not stop after striking Fujimoto, and three men face misdemeanor charges of obstructing justice, reckless endangerment and failure to render aid the only penalties then applicable.
Lawmakers also made it a crime to text and drive, to violate restrictions on tanning salon use and to film at an agricultural operation without permission the latter aimed at incidents involving animal-rights groups.
And they added five new drugs to the state's controlled- substances list, including a stimulant known as BZP and several cannabis-like chemicals, with varying levels of offenses for each drug, such as possession, distribution, manufacturing and use of the substance in the presence of a child.
By the numbers: New crime laws
Lawmakers have added 200 new offenses since 2007. By offense level, they include:
3 • First-degree felonies
30 • Second-degree felonies
44 • Third-degree felonies
39 • Class A misdemeanors
65 • Class B misdemeanors
16 • Class C misdemeanors
3 • Infractions
Source: Utah Sentencing Commission