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Parental rights bill clears Utah House panel

Published: Thursday, Feb. 23 2012 10:57 p.m. MST

In this 2004 file photo, 13-year old Parker Jensen (right) is seen with his parents Barbara and Daren Jensen at their home in Sandy, Utah.rn

Michael Brandy

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SALT LAKE CITY —  A watered-down bill reaffirming parental rights cleared a House committee Thursday.

Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, pulled the more controversial aspects from HB161, including revisions of laws regarding termination of parental rights, and designated them for study over the summer. The Utah Department of Human Services opposed the bill in its original form, but favored the amended version.

"We all agree it's a crucial issue but we just can't go too fast," Christensen said.

The measure calls for the Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee to examine the potential for parents to seek a jury trial in juvenile court when faced with losing their children; the costs of foster care versus in-home services; and whether federal law and funds interfere with reunifications.

"If I have to tell the federal government to stay out of our homes or our deserts, I'm going with the homes," Christensen told the House Judiciary Committee.

Though the bill makes no changes to current law, committee members discussed parental rights in general, including the Parker Jensen case. Jensen's parents in 2003 refused chemotherapy for their then 12-year-old son's diagnosed cancer, leading to a court battle with the Utah Division of Child and Family Services. The boy never underwent the treatment and is reportedly healthy today.

"If what happened to the Jensen family happened to me, I would have been in jail right now because I would have defended my right against the state," said Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo.

Murderers get off on reasonable doubt, while children are removed from homes for the "slightest hint" of something wrong, he said. "That seems out of whack."

Palmer DePaulis, human services executive director, said family issues are difficult and complicated. The state tries its best to balance the rights of parents with the safety of children, he said.

Also Thursday, the House unanimously approved HB319, which would require DCFS to provide parents a pamphlet explaining their rights at the time children are removed from their home. It would include information about hiring an attorney, available resources such as anger management and parent classes and a DCFS contact.

"I think this would be a great help to people who have their children taken away and don't understand the process," said Rep. Christine Watkins, D-Price, the bill's sponsor.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com Twitter: dennisromboy

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