SALT LAKE CITY — Despite protests that "roughhousing" teens could be subject to court orders, the Utah Senate gave final passage to a bill that enables Utahns 18 and older who are abused or threatened in dating relationships to seek protective orders.
Several lawmakers — Democrat and Republican — have proposed varying versions of the legislation dating back nine years in an attempt to address a gap in the code. Under Utah law, only spouses or cohabitants can seek such orders.
But in previous legislative sessions, the bills have been rejected over concerns that vindictive dating partners would lie to obtain protective orders or that people could be unfairly denied access to firearms while subject to protective orders.
On Tuesday, HB50, sponsored by Rep. Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, passed the Senate by a vote of 24-4.
The passage of HB50 was welcome news to two Utah fathers whose daughters had been victims of dating violence. Both men had testified at legislative hearings urging the passage of the bill.
Jon Bambrough, whose daughter, AshLee, suffered brain damage when she was pushed out of a pickup truck traveling 65 mph by her then boyfriend, said extending this protection to people in dating relationships was long overdue.
"I don't know why it took so long, really. It should be common sense to fill that gap (in the law)," Bambrough said Tuesday evening.
Rick Sorensen, whose daughter was sexually assaulted by an acquaintance and was unable to obtain a protective order because the two were in a dating relationship, said passage of HB50 "gives a little peace of mind."
"Hopefully, it will make it so that some of the victims will be a little bit stronger and have a little more faith that other people care," he said.
Although the bill had passed by a wide margin in the House, critics in the Senate, including Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, questioned whether HB50 should apply to same-sex couples.
Others, such as Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said young people who "roughhouse" to test limits could be subject to protective orders.
Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, a member of the Senate committee that endorsed the bill, said critics were raising hypothetical objections.
"In committee, we heard about a lot of horrific things that really did happen," he said.
A 2008 survey by the Utah Department of Health found that 8.4 percent of women 18 and older experienced physical assault by a current or former intimate partner. Nearly a third of the assaults were committed in the context of a dating relationship, according to the report.
To allay concerns that vindictive partners would seek protective orders, Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, reminded Senate members that judges would review the applications to "ferret out who needs protection and the protection is bona fide."
Under HB50, the protective order would be in effect for 180 days. A person who violates a protective order can be charged with class B misdemeanor. Someone who lies to obtain a protective order could be charged with a felony, Seelig noted in an earlier committee meeting.
Bambrough said several days after his daughter was injured, a court issued a protective order against her abuser, who prosecutors said had a prior history of domestic violence.
While some people dismiss protective orders as "just a piece of paper," Bambrough said the order entered in his daughter's case gave her a sense of security.
"Not only is it a deterrent for the perpetrator, it's a huge safety blanket for the family and the victims. It gives you that peace of mind you really need," he said.
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