POLITICS & ELECTIONS

Salt Lake Co. DA reacts after governor signs controversial bill targeting his office  

Mar 22, 2024, 3:52 PM | Updated: 7:29 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake County’s top prosecutor is reacting after the governor signed a controversial bill imposing new rules on his office.

Critics say SB273 unfairly targets District Attorney Sim Gill, while supporters say it’s about curbing crime as the state tries to woo a major league hockey team.

The bill requires Gill to report how his prosecutors spend their time in 15-minute increments, along with many other data points. It also sets up a process for certain officials to recommend that the Utah Supreme Court remove and replace Gill if they feel he isn’t doing his job. Republicans who pushed the bill expressed concern about crime in the state’s capital city.

Gov. Spencer Cox signed SB273 into law this week while noting that the bill still needs work. In a letter, Cox said he took action on the bill “with the express understanding that we will work together to address those concerns.”

2024 Veto Letter by Cary Schwanitz on Scribd

Not enough staff

Inside his office Friday morning, Gill said his staff is busy.

“Right now, our office has 26,000 open active cases,” said Gill. “We have over 200 death-related cases. We have almost 2,000 sexual assaults [and] 4,000 domestic violence cases. So, the men and women here are working.”

Gill said he doesn’t have nearly enough prosecutors to do the work, noting his office is “woefully underfunded.”

That’s why he was hoping Gov. Cox would have vetoed SB273. The bill passed during the final hours of the legislative session after a heated, emotional debate.

Following its passage, 24 elected prosecutors in Utah urged a veto, criticizing the process and substance of the legislation. But the governor still signed it.

“I’m disappointed,” said Gill, “but I’m also guardedly optimistic.”

That’s because he said he trusts the governor and legislative leaders to address the concerns expressed about the bill.

“I take the governor at his word, and I take the leadership at their word that we’re going to be working through this,” said Gill.

‘Uptick in concerns’

The lawmaker who sponsored SB273, Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, told KSL TV in a statement Friday he’s concerned about crime.

“Unfortunately, we have seen an uptick in concerns, including criminals being released too quickly, lack of effective enforcement of laws and cases taking a significant amount of time to be processed,” said Stevenson.

Stevenson said the bill’s goal “is to better understand how criminal cases are handled in Utah so we can work together to enhance the process.”

However, the bill only applies to Salt Lake County. No other counties in the state are included.

“I’m looking forward to continuing conversations about how we can improve the justice system, protect individuals’ constitutional rights and keep our communities safe,” Stevenson said.

The law is not set to take effect until July 1, 2025. It’s unclear what exactly will change in it. But Gill is hopeful his main concerns will be addressed.

“Let’s not create unnecessary requirements or burdens on an already depleted workforce,” Gill said, “because we’ve got plenty of work to do.”

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Salt Lake Co. DA reacts after governor signs controversial bill targeting his office