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Dating violence protection bill advances to Senate

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27 2013 5:55 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to allow people 18 and older in dating relationships to obtain protective orders has advanced to the Utah Senate.

Different versions of the legislation have been debated for more than seven years without passing, largely over concerns about gun rights being restricted while a protective order is in place or people lying to obtain protective orders to exert power in a dating or workplace situation.

Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday suggests that those concerns persist, but only one committee member voted against forwarding the bill to the Senate.

People who spoke in favor of HB50 said young people in dating relationships need the protection of judicial orders when relationships sour to the point they are threatened or battered.

Rick Sorensen, whose daughter was sexually assaulted by a dating acquaintance, said she fell into a category of people not covered by statutes allowing them to obtain protective orders, such as juvenile laws or the state's Cohabitant Abuse Act.

"There is a gap this law will fill. I strongly urge you, as the father of a victim, to read it and push it forward," Sorensen said.

HB50 would also apply to emancipated minors who need protection from individuals they are dating who threaten violence or commit violent acts.

Despite assurances from the bill's sponsor, Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, that backers have gone to great lengths to protect the personal liberties of people against whom protective orders have been entered, the bill was opposed by defense attorneys and gun rights interests.

People who have not yet been charged or convicted of an offense stemming from an alleged incident should not be denied their "constitutional right to possess a firearm" for the period a protective order is in place, said Charles Hardy, public policy director of Gun Owners of Utah.

Noting the long history of the bill, Seelig said personal liberty issues have been thoroughly discussed over the years, and this year's version of the bill uses the best language from other states to ensure the competing interests of safety and personal liberty are addressed in a "narrow and surgical way."

She noted that violating a protective order is a misdemeanor offense, while lying to obtain one can be prosecuted as a felony.

A person subject to a protective order must "knowingly and intentionally violate it," Seelig said.

A survey by the Utah Department of Health in 2008 found that 8.4 percent of women 18 and older experienced physical assault by a current or former intimate partner, almost a third of which were committed in the context of a dating relationship, Seelig said.

Moreover, the state experienced 15 domestic violence homicides between 2004 and 2011.

The bottom line, Seelig said, is "there's a gap in the code. People are hurting or they're dying."

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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