Legislature considers bills addressing domestic violence

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Photo illustration (Savannah Hopkinson and Ty Mullen)

SALT LAKE CITY — Several bills under consideration by Utah’s 2018 Legislature would establish stricter domestic violence laws to protect victims.

HB160: Phone rights for victims

If passed, HB160 would establish a way for domestic violence victims to remove their phone from a shared account with their abuser. The bill would require cell phone providers to allow victims to switch their phone and account to their name while keeping the same phone and number.

A judge would be able to give a court order to put the victim in control of their own cell phone without the consent of the abuser.

Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, is sponsoring the bill. In a House Committee on Feb. 2, he said he hoped this bill would make it possible to transfer accounts in a seamless and timely manner.

Currently, there is no easy way to do this. Heather Wolsey, a survivor of domestic violence, spoke about her experience. While she was trying to get away from her abusive husband, he used their shared cell phone plan to track the location of her phone and view all the texts and calls she made.

Tara Tuey, an AT&T representative, offered the company’s support of the bill at a hearing. She said it is important to provide an easy way for victims to keep their phone number and information.

“Asking someone to walk away from all the valuable information in their phone makes it more difficult for victims to remove themselves from this hostile environment and land on their feet,” Tuey said.

HB160 passed its first House Committee on Feb. 2 and will now move on to the second committee hearing.

HB165: Pre-trial release amendment

Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake is sponsoring HB165. If passed, it would allow a judge to grant a protective order to victims of abuse throughout the pre-trial time.

Shared custody of children or property transfers would not be adequate reasons for a court to deny a protective order. In these situations, it would be the court’s responsibility to set up specific parameters for allowable contact.

Steve Burton, president of the Utah Association of Defense Lawyers, spoke in opposition to the bill. Though he said he supported the bill’s concept, he objects to the expiration time for a no-contact order.

Under HB165, when someone is arrested for domestic violence, the no-contact order stays valid for 30 days, even if there is no case filed.

Burton said this is too long for someone who has not been proven guilty to be removed from their home. He asked that the timeline be shortened to 14 days.

Despite Burton’s opposition, HB165 passed its first House Committee Feb. 2 and will move on to debate by the full House.

SB27: Dating violence and stalking amendments

Scott G Winterton
In this June 6, 2017 photo, crime scene investigators inspect the scene of a fatal shooting in Sandy, Utah. Police documents show a Utah man who killed his ex-girlfriend, Rackley, and her 6-year-old son when he opened fire on a car full of children. (Scott G Winterton/The Deseret News via AP, File)

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, is sponsoring SB27. When introducing the bill in a House Committee on Feb. 2, Weiler said he started looking into changes that could be made to the law after Sandy woman Memorez Rackley and her 6-year-old son died. Rackley was fatally shot by a stalker in June 2017.

Under the current law, Rackley was not able to file a protective order against her stalker because they had not lived together.

Currently, to receive a protective order against someone they must be a relative or have lived with the abuser.

Weiler gave the example that under the current law a person could file a protective order against a roommate they had 30 years ago, but not someone they dated three months ago.

The main changes SB27 would create include redefining cohabitation to include any consensual sexual partner and protective orders, which currently do not expire, would expire after 10 years unless the victim filed for extension.

Erin Jemison, director of public policy for YWCA, offered her support for the bill at a committee hearing.

“We appreciate prioritizing victim safety and making sure this process can be a little more accessible,” Jemison said.

Other domestic violence bills

SB99, sponsored by Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, would add animal cruelty to the list of offenses that may qualify as a domestic violence. This bill has not been assigned to a committee for its first vote.

HB333, sponsored by Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Salt Lake, would establish assault committed against a cohabitant or dating partner as a class A misdemeanor. It has also not been assigned to a committee.

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