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Utah Legislature considering 3 sex assault bills

Published: Saturday, March 1 2014 6:57 p.m. MST

Elizabeth Smart speaks during a meeting concerning HB286 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014.  (Ravell Call, Deseret News) Elizabeth Smart speaks during a meeting concerning HB286 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014. (Ravell Call, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — Three bills related to sexual assault and schools are working their way toward becoming law in Utah's 2014 legislative session.

HB213

Sponsor: Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper.

This bill specifically targets schools and broadens the definition of special trust to include employees, volunteers of the school and teachers. It would make someone who works at a school but is not currently a student's teacher face increased penalties for sexual assault of a student. It also qualifies any sexual assault that does not result in intercourse as a third-degree felony.

"When you enter the educational setting, there is a high level of trust," LaVar Christensen said.

The bill passed a House committee and has been introduced on the House floor.

HB286

Sponsor: Rep Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City

This bill sets out to mandate sexual assault awareness education in schools, for parents, teachers and students. It has been amended to allow parents the ability to opt out of the program.

Therapist David Dodgion has concerns about making the course optional.

"Part of my worry about a parent being able to opt out is some of the parents who are going to opt out are the ones who are sexually abusing their children. The sad reality is that happens and not in the small percentage of the cases," he said.

Elizabeth Smart, Deondra Brown of The 5 Browns musical group and Preston Jensen, a local advocate, spoke in support of the bill before it went to vote Thursday.

Some parents have expressed concern that the bill would take way from their parenting rights. Eagle Forum President Gayle Ruzicka spoke against the bill during a committee meeting. She believes parents should be able to have these discussions with their children and does not think the classroom is an appropriate setting for them.

HB286 passed the House Thursday.

HB257

Sponsors: Rep. Brad. R. Wilson, R-Kaysville

This bill defines who is in "a position of special trust" regarding child sexual abuse. It lists several types of individuals, including parents, grandparents, employers and "any person in a position of authority, other than those persons listed … which enables the person to exercise undue influence over the child."

HB257 has passed the House, received a favorable recommendation Friday from a Senate committee and will be heard by the full Senate.

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