Utah House committee passes online dating safety bill

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A proposed bill in the Utah House of Representatives aims to make criminal records more widely available to users of dating apps in order to help decrease rates of sexual and domestic violence. (Hannah Miner)

The Utah House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would allow people to search legal records of people they meet online.

HB249 was passed through committee in a unanimous vote on Feb. 9. Following the passage, the bill is now on its way to the legislative floor to receive a vote from the House. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, after listening to concerns from his constituents about domestic violence between intimate partners.

The proposed bill would allow Utahns to have easier access to Xchange, Utah’s online public court system. Currently, users of the site must pay a monthly fee in order to access the records online. If the bill is passed, Xchange would have broader access and become more affordable.

Handy called domestic violence a “scourge” in his opening statements before turning the time over to Laura Wilson, a Layton resident and survivor of domestic abuse who attended the meeting in order to testify in favor of the bill. Wilson detailed her time dating someone she met on a dating site, who she saw as “perfect.”

“At that time, I had no reason to suspect that he had a history of violence. Six months into the relationship, things began to change,” Wilson said to the committee.

After receiving months of physical and emotional abuse, Wilson said her boyfriend at the time admitted he had a criminal record she was unaware of. Even after becoming pregnant, Wilson said the abuse continued to escalate.

According to research by ABODO, 91% of almost 5,000 surveyed college students use some sort of dating app to find relationships online.

According to BYU nursing professor and sexual assault expert Julie Valentine, most dating apps have little-to-no screening of people with repeated violent offenses. She said the bill could deeply impact the safety of students across Utah campuses and allow for easier search of a stranger’s background.

There were concerns about how the bill may impact the ability for some who have been charged of crimes to more easily move on with their lives. Steven Burton, director of the Utah Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said people may be able to access records of cases where someone may not be guilty and assume the worst.

The bill passed committee unanimously regardless of concerns, partially because the information that would be accessed is public record. The bill would only make it easier to access these records.

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