Lawmakers extend dating violence protections, expungement for some drug offenses

Published: Thursday, March 14 2013 6:05 p.m. MDT

Light falls through the rotunda during the final day of legislature at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City Thursday, March 14, 2013.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — After nine years of attempts to pass similar legislation, the Utah Legislature passed a bill that enables Utahns 18 and older who are abused or threatened in dating relationships to seek protective orders.

The bill addresses a gap in the code for people who are dating. Previously, only spouses or cohabitants could seek such orders. But numerous people had testified to lawmakers over the years about being battered, abused or threatened by dating partners yet having no legal means to limit contact with their abusers.

In previous legislative sessions, dating violence bills were 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.

But this year, a narrowly drafted HB50, co-sponsored by House Minority Leader Rep. Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, received overwhelming support in both houses of the Legislature. The orders stay in effect for 180 days. Violating a protective order can be prosecuted as a class B misdemeanor, but lying to obtain one is a felony offense, Seelig said.

In an unrelated matter, the Legislature created a process to allow specific drug possession felony and misdemeanor convictions to be expunged from criminal records.

The legislation is intended to help people who have served jail or prison time and completed probation for their offenses, are recovering from addiction and have paid their fines and restitution.

When drug convictions linger on their records preventing these offenders from obtaining employment, housing or loans, "we've literally made it a life sentence," said Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, sponsor of HB33. Law enforcement, corrections, criminal justice, substance abuse and mental health treatment agencies helped craft the legislation.

Hutchings also sponsored legislation that will allow the Utah Driver License Division to issue temporary state IDs. HB320 will be a particular boon to people leaving prison and jail who have no valid identification. 

The legislation helps to address one of the unintended consequences of the federal REAL ID Act. Without proper documents, newly released inmates are unable to obtain housing, seek employment or apply for government programs.

Lawmakers also dealt with the issue of people who have multiple offenses of patronizing prostitutes. Under SB160, they could be charged with class A misdemeanors. The pool of repeat offenders is small, but the issue is problematic for jurisidictions where the offenses occur, said sponsor Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton.

E-mail: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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