Suggesting something like a sex offender registry for con artists and shysters, Rep. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, pitched to lawmakers a bill that would create a website listing people convicted for serious financial crimes with an identifying mug shot and other details to help protect the public. Unlike a sex offender registry, however, McKell's bill isn't requiring financial crime felons to stay away from schools or go knocking on doors in their neighborhoods to introduce themselves as fraudsters. Rather, it simply gathers and organizes already-existing public information in a place that is easy for the public to access and search.
McKell, an attorney from Utah County, readily agreed to carry the bill, which was the brainchild of Attorney General Sean Reyes and is the AG's top legislative priority for the session.
McKell says too often he sees familiar faces in the courts as repeat offenders. “It was a different scheme but the same people,” McKell said. “For those of you who know what happens in Utah County—and other parts of the state unfortunately— it has been a hotbed for fraud.”
McKell's House Bill 378
would create a site that would only include people who had been convicted of certain second-degree felonies for financial crime in the past 10 years. Those accessing the site would be able to see the financial felon's name, crimes, identifying information and a photo.
Chief Civil Deputy for the Utah Attorney General's Office, Brian Tarbet told the committee that the scope of the registry was narrowly tailored, and that in 2014, for example, would only apply to 107 cases. Going back a decade would likely mean about 1,000 individuals might be listed on the site. He stressed the need for a site to help citizens make the right decision before doing business with those looking to trade on trust to separate innocent Utahns from their hard-earned money.
“It is another tool to simply help our citizens to be educated and be on the lookout for shady and unsavory business practices,” Tarbet said.
Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, worried, however, that a retroactive database going back 10 years would be unfair to people who have been convicted and paid their dues.
“Now we're going to say, 'By the way, we're going to put you in this registry even though you've pretty much accomplished everything we've asked you to do?'” Ray said.
McKell explained to the committee that the bill did have a mechanism for individuals to petition to be removed from the registry. In some ways the registry would provide an incentive for people to petition to get off of it, as one of the steps necessary to be removed from the registry would be that felons fully pay court-ordered restitution to their victims.
Ray had his doubts, but told McKell he wanted the bill to advance for further debate and, he joined the rest of the committee in giving a unanimous vote to favorably passing McKell's bill out of committee.
To read House Bill 378 click here. To contact Rep. McKell about this bill click here. To find your legislator to contact them about this bill click here. For more updates from the hill visit CityWeekly.net and follow @EricSPeterson and @ColbyFrazierLP on Twitter.