HB165: Representative seeks restitution for child sexual abuse victims

Rep. Brad Dee, R–Ogden, explained that even veterans are supporting HB165, which would garnish disability and veteran benefits to child victims of sexual abuse.

SALT LAKE CITY—A lawmaker wants to make perpetrators pay restitution to the child victims of sexual abuse.

The Utah House is set to vote on HB165, sponsored by Rep. Brad Dee, R–Ogden. The bill passed the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee earlier. This bill would exclude disability and veteran benefits from property exemption if the recipient has been convicted of a felony and ordered to pay reparations to a victim.

At the committee meeting, Dee explained the motivation for this bill came from a family in his district. A man was convicted of sexually abusing his daughter and was ordered to pay restitution by the court. Because the man was in prison, he did not have a job and could not pay the restitution; however, he did receive veteran benefits. Dee contacted the Veterans Administration to see if these benefits could be garnished to pay for the daughter’s therapy. Current legislation does not allow this, so Dee is seeking to change the law.

“I don’t want to forever garnish someone’s retirement, but at least for the years of counseling for this young woman – I think the perpetrator should be paying for that,” Dee said.

He emotionally continued, “I think the perpetrator at least ought to be held accountable for the counseling of a young girl that went through this terror in her family for over a year. I think that’s the person that ought to be held responsible for paying for the counsel to bring this girl back into a normal life.”

Several committee members expressed their concern over the narrowness of this bill.

Rep. Edward Redd, R–Logan, was vocal about his hesitations with the bill and asked why the bill is not seeking to change the code for everything that is currently exempted from victim restitution. The bill, he said, seeks to solve one individual case, but policy should seek to solve many larger cases. He would prefer a more general bill that would make changes in a broad sense, so the problem does not have to be revisited in the future. Despite his hesitations, however, Redd voted in favor of the bill.

“The concept is don’t let perfection be the enemy of good,” Redd said. “I voted for it not because I’m totally enthralled with the idea – I’m enthralled with the concept, but I’m not enthralled with the microsurgical approach to the problem. I think he should make it more general. It’s a piecemeal, but a piecemeal is better than nothing.”

The bill passed in the committee in a eight to one vote with only Rep. Earl Tanner, R–West Jordan, voting against it.

Several other states have passed bills similar to HB165. Dee also stressed that judges would still be determining the weight of liabilities in criminal cases. This bill would only serve as a way to ensure restitution is paid to the victim.

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