Utah Legislature outlines 2016 interim issues

The Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, is home to one of the more conservative state legislatures in the country. (Porter Chelson)
The Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah is home to one of the more conservative state legislatures in the country. (Porter Chelson)

SALT LAKE CITY — At the Judiciary Interim in Salt Lake City on May 18, elected state legislators outlined the studies that will be discussed throughout the year.

One of the main topics that was debated and will continue to be pondered is the effectiveness of the “least restrictive means” test. This test requires the least restrictive route to be taken in order to achieve the protection of children in parental custody cases. The purpose of this test is to help judiciary officials minimize the role of government in the lives of families and children.

“You want to protect the child: watch over them, help them to have a voice and make sure the judicial system is not the least bit intrusive or invasive in the life of a young person, but that is not an easy balance,” said Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, House Chair.

Over the next year, the legislators will continue to discuss how to reduce the negative effects that occur when a child’s custody must change.

“The standard is the least restrictive means, and under all circumstances, at all times do everything possible to make sure the proper role of government is known, honored and respected and that it doesn’t result in the ‘irretrievable destruction of family life,’” Christensen said. “What a tragedy that would be.”

Rep. V. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, an expert in the study, agreed with Christensen.

“I think also that it is important that our children are protected and that we have in place the resources necessary to protect them from abuse and extreme neglect,” Snow said.

Both Christensen and Snow warned against federal overreach, explaining that it is not only more trying on the family and the child, but the costs are also significantly higher. According to Christensen, on average in-house services cost $1,700, while federally mandated foster homes cost around $47,000.

“There needs to be an expanded use of kinship placements,” Christensen said. “The government is the last resort, not the first resort.”

The Judiciary Interim will continue to discuss the best possible ways to manage cases involving children and family rights.

Some of the other studies that were mentioned during the interim involved indigent defense, marijuana impairment and penalties, state zoning powers and justice courts.

To find more information about the Judiciary Interim and the other studies discussed go to le.utah.gov.

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