Bills strengthening domestic violence laws find support in Utah Legislature

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ST. GEORGE — Legislation to fix gaps in Utah domestic violence law is moving through the Utah Legislature with apparent favor.

Two bills, one introduced in the House and the other in the Senate look to  strengthen laws on protective orders, stalking injunctions and pretrial release of alleged perpetrators.

In the House a bill designated HB 165 proposes to amend laws on pretrial release while the Senate bill designated SB 27 proposes to amend laws on domestic and dating violence and stalking laws. Both bills have passed their respective chambers and are moving forward in the other.

“These bills demonstrate that we stand behind victims of domestic abuse and stalking and give them the full support of the law,” Rep. Sandra Hollins, who serves on the House committee, said in a statement. “We want to do everything in our power to protect survivors and their families from harm, and to ensure our criminal justice system is prepared to deal with these cases.”

The bipartisan legislation is the result of a joint effort between legislators, prosecutors, law enforcement, advocates and survivors of domestic violence.

The domestic and dating violence bill, sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, aims to increase the ability of law enforcement to protect victims of stalking and violence, as well as their family members, by expanding the ability to obtain a protective order to those who have or have had a relationship with a suspect but never lived together. It also narrows the definition of a family member.

Other proposed revisions to existing law include requiring police to provide victims with easy-to-understand written information about resources (such as shelters) and seeking a stalking injunction.

Gaps in Utah domestic violence laws were exposed last year when a man shot and killed his ex-girlfriend and her son in a Sandy neighborhood.

In June 2017, Jeremy Patterson opened fire on a car full of children after school, killing Memorez Rackley, 39, and her 6-year-old son Jase. Rackley’s 11-year-old son Myles and the 8-year-old daughter of a woman who tried to help the Rackley family were shot and injured.

Patterson, 32, then took his own life on the side of the street near the mother and child he had just murdered.

Despite a previous stalking report, Rackley couldn’t have obtained a protective order because she and Patterson had never married or lived together. She would have been eligible to get a stalking injunction, but that court order wouldn’t lead to an arrest on the first violation.

The bill proposing amendments to existing laws on pretrial release, sponsored by Minority Assistant Whip Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, provides clear guidelines for prosecutors and law enforcement regarding the pretrial process. If passed, it would also offer additional protections to survivors of domestic violence by limiting the interaction of the aggressor with the victim and his or her family.

“Survivors of domestic abuse need to be protected and feel supported during the pretrial process. Currently, many survivors are in danger from their aggressors and are intimidated or abused during pretrial from testifying and/or pursuing litigation,” Romero, the House sponsor of both bills, said in a statement regarding the pretrial release bill, adding:

We also need to take issues such as stalking and dating violence seriously. These bills provide much needed protection, and while they represent an important first step, there is still much to be done regarding sexual abuse and harassment.

The House bill proposing amendments to pretrial release laws was unanimously passed by the House Feb. 16 and is currently being considered by the Senate Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee before passing to the Senate chamber for a vote.

The Senate bill proposing domestic violence and other amendments was unanimously passed by the Senate Jan. 22, received the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee’s favorable recommendation Feb. 22 and currently rests with the House Rules Committee for consideration of fiscal impacts. If recommended by the rules committee, it will move to the House for a vote and then back to the Senate for approval of revisions made earlier in the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.

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Read more: See all St. George News stories related to Utah’s 2018 Legislative session

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2 Comments

  • Honor1st February 24, 2018 at 6:35 am

    Assault & battery is a crime but for some reason , some were given a ‘pass’ if it was their spouse .
    The law needs to be clear about prosecuting ALL assaults and not require the person beaten to file a complaint ,

    Thugs just threaten the person more if they can get off by scaring the target into Not filing a complaint .

  • hiker75 February 25, 2018 at 9:41 am

    Will this apply to LDS victims too? Is The Church and LDS leaders in favor of it? If not, why bother.

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