HB19 would protect domestic abuse victims awaiting trial

Lawmakers are considering different ways to protect domestic abuse victims awaiting trial. (Mallory Jesperson)

A legislative proposal for Utah’s 2019 legislative session aims to protect both victims of domestic violence and those who are arrested without charges filed.

According to bill sponsor Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, the goal in crafting HB19 was to “think about the rights of the victim, but also to think about the rights of the alleged perpetrators.”

The bill will be among hundreds to be considered when the 2019 legislative session begins Jan. 28 on Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City.

During the 2018 session, jail release protective orders were extended to victims of sexual offenses and offenses against children and vulnerable adults — individuals older than 65 or adults with the mental capacity of a child. These orders forbid the aggressor from having contact with the victim and expire at the defendant’s first court appearance.

“Survivors of domestic abuse need to be protected and feel supported during the pretrial process,” Romero said. “Currently, many survivors are in danger from their aggressors and are intimidated or abused during pretrial from testifying and or pursuing litigation.”

Under HB19, judges would be able to grant pretrial protective orders to victims of sex and exploitation crimes and extend orders throughout the pretrial process.

In addition, HB19 would ensure that if a criminal case were declined, domestic violence jail release protective orders would be dismissed. If a prosecutor were to not file or decline a case within 30 days, the order would expire.

Another amendment included in HB19 is the clarification that courts can decide the parameters of allowable contact concerning minor children or property transfers.

“Shared custody of children and transfers of property should not be a reason for courts to deny protective orders to victims or deny defendants access to their family and belongings,” Romero said.

HB19 was based on an earlier project led by Romero and Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Bountiful. The project first resulted in SB27, passed last year, and then HB165, which did not make it through the 2018 legislative session and evolved into what is now HB19.

“It got stuck on the second reading calendar in the Senate, but nobody voted against,” Romero said. “Everyone was in full support of that because they knew we had to reevaluate.”

Romero said she is sponsoring another bill, filed Jan. 14, which focuses on providing services for victims of domestic and sexual violence. It would amend the marriage license to include a $35 fee toward funding shelters for victims and preventative programs.

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