Domestic violence bill passes in Utah Senate, parents of Gabby Petito attend vote

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Gabby Petito’s family attend the Senate vote on SB117. Petito was murdered by her boyfriend in 2021. (Utah Senate)

The parents of Gabby Petito, the victim killed at the hands of her fiancé Brian Laundrie in 2021, attended the Utah Senate vote for a new domestic violence bill.

The bill requires police to take a lethality assessment when responding to a domestic abuse report. Nichole Schmidt, Petito’s mother, said if the bill had been in place sooner, her daughter would still be alive.

Petito’s case shocked the nation as her road trip across America with her killer turned into a missing person case. Authorities found Petito’s body in Wyoming after being strangled to death. The suspect committed suicide in Florida a few months later.

Hannah Rigby, president of the BYU Cold Case Club, thinks Petito’s case is unique.

“Gabby had such a presence on social media, and her boyfriend who ended up killing her was on her social media. The fact that he ended up being her killer … it’s kind of like that Instagram versus reality,” she said.

Hannah Rigby explains why Petito’s case was so impactful. Rigby is the president of the BYU Cold Case Club. (Joel Leighton)

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate on Jan. 30 with 29 affirmative votes, and then in the House with 9 affirmative votes.

Traction for the bill increased with the release of Petito’s interaction with Moab police prior to her murder. Police pulled over the couple’s van after a concerned citizen had called the police after seeing Petito repeatedly slapped on Aug. 12. However, despite Petito’s distress and report of physical abuse, no action was taken at the time.

Parker and McConkie, the law firm representing Petito’s parents, released a selfie of Petito taken just before the police stop with a bruised eye and a cut on her cheek. The firm asserts that despite Petito showing responding officers clear signs she was a victim of aggravated assault under Utah’s Criminal Code, they did not investigate the situation further.

Petito’s parents have filed a lawsuit against the Moab Police Department for $50 million for failing to protect their daughter.

Jake Andersen, a BYU political science major who followed the case, hopes for society to pay more attention to signs of abuse in the future.

“It’s a horrific situation. Imagine a world where strangers loved each other. Petito would be here today,” Anderson said.

SB117, sponsored by Senator Todd D. Weiler of Davis County, requires a law enforcement officer to conduct a lethality assessment when responding to any domestic violence reports. The screening is designed to identify potentially dangerous individuals. The bill also ensures a private database is kept of all assessments.

“It is my hope that the steps taken in this bill will protect victims of domestic violence from losing their lives and will prevent violent situations from escalating any further,” Weiler said.

After the vote, Lieutenant Governor Deidre M. Henderson took to Twitter to thank the Senate for the outcome.

“Thank you to the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee for the unanimous favorable recommendation of SB117,” Henderson said.

The House Rules Committee weighed up the cost of the proposal and estimated it would be initially $1.8 million, and around $1.7 million in the following year.

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