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Lawmakers took a step Tuesday toward preventing future medical waste incinerators from being located within two miles of residential areas — hoping to avoid problems that have surrounded Stericycle in North Salt Lake.

The only controversy was whether the Senate should go even further, and allow stiffer punishments for Stericycle for alleged violations that neighbors say have sickened them. "I am in favor of smacking Stericycle. I think they have been a very bad corporate citizen," said Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City.

The Senate gave preliminary approval to SB196 on a 19-5 vote. It still faces a final vote there, probably later this week, before also going to the House. On Monday, the House approved a related resolution to allow Stericycle to move to a remote spot on state school trust land in Tooele County.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said he initially introduced SB196 when Stericycle said it planned to move without naming a destination, and Weiler wanted to ensure any new plant would be far from residential areas.

"We are trying to prevent another Stericycle situation from being created in the future," he said.

But some, including Dabakis and Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, questioned why the Senate does not do more, such as increase fines for incinerators that violate air-quality standards. Robles pushed such a bill but it was defeated in committee.

Weiler said he is confident that the current enforcement system is sufficient and working. "I have every reason to believe that criminal charges will be filed against Stericycle, and I think it will be soon. So I am not convinced the system we have is broken," he said.

State regulators have issued a citation to Stericycle, alleging the smoke coming from the company's stack has exceeded limits for dioxin, furan and nitrous oxides. And the plant failed to report exceeding emissions and rigged a stack test, regulators say. Stericycle has denied the violations and taken legal steps to fight those citations.

"I am not in favor of smacking Stericycle and driving them out of the state," Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, said. "I am very much in favor of regulating them. I think this bill controls that."