SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah lawmakers have taken the first step to remove a hurdle for law enforcement officials when they're looking to prosecute someone for enticing a minor over the Internet.

The House of Representatives gave its approval on a snowy Wednesday morning to House Bill 31, which would reduce the requirements for law enforcement to prosecute someone who is trying to entice a minor through the Internet or other electronic communications.

Under the current rules, law enforcement needs to show the perpetrator had communications that were enticing to a minor and also physically show up at a location to commit a predatory act. This bill would remove the second component of the requirement so law enforcement can target individuals without having them show up at a location with the intent to harm a minor.

Rep. Curt Webb, R-Logan, the bill's sponsor, said the issue was first brought up by the Cache County attorney and also has been looked at by the Utah Attorney General's Office.

He said there was a case in which a person was able to fight enticement charges because his attorney stated he did not have the intent to commit a crime. The person had contacted a minor through the Internet and had questionable conversations with the minor, but because there was no physical contact between them he could not be arrested for the crime. 

"His attorney said he did not have an intent to commit the crime and therefore there is no way you can get to him," Webb said.

Some representatives were concerned the change may broaden the law so much that an innocent person could be left open to a criminal investigation. Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, worried someone may interpret the electronic communications in a different way than the sender meant.

Webb said in the situations he has seen, the intent of the sender has been clear.

The bill passed with a vote of 58 to 16. It will now be considered by the Senate.

-- Billy Hesterman covers the Utah State Legislature and local politics for the Daily Herald. You can follow him on Twitter at: @billyhesterman
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