A statewide task force on child sexual abuse concluded recently that the legal system also abuses victims. The result was an appeal for a Children's Justice Center, where interviews and investigations could take place in a homelike environment so the victim would not feel threatened.
Thursday, the Senate Human Services Standing Committee gave unanimous approval to SB44, sponsored by Sen. Craig Peterson, R-Orem, that would establish three centers: one each in Salt Lake, Weber and Utah counties. The center concept had earlier received an enthusiastic endorsement from Gov. Norm H. Bangerter, who lauded the idea during his State of the State address.Grethe Peterson, chairwoman of the task force, said the study showed a piece missing in the system. That piece, she said, was "the impact of the system on the victim. We understand the importance of the rights of the accused. But the accused is usually an adult and the system is created for adults."
The centers would also address problems with duplication and lack of coordination in child-abuse cases. It would virtually eliminate the endless string of repetitive interviews with the child-victim, since interviews would be held at one location in a coordinated fashion.
Proponents of the bill included LaMar Eyre, director of Salt Lake County Youth Services; Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Chabries; Salt Lake County Attorney David Yocom; and Barbara Thompson, director of Family Services.
Although the vote was unanimous, Sen. John Holmgren, R-Bear River City, cautioned proponents that the center would not be a "Utopia."
- While Arizona found itself in deep political hot water when voters there turned down a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Utah avoided national ridicule by passing a state Human Rights Day holiday.
But that doesn't go far enough, says House Minority Leader Kelly Atkinson, D-West Jordan. He wants the name of Utah's state holiday changed to Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"Most of the rest of the nation has seen fit to pay tribute to Martin Luther King Jr.," Atkinson said, "and Utah needs to get in line. He was a tremendous man who had tremendous impact on our society. I feel strongly that he changed our mind-set on how we view other people."
Many lawmakers, however, don't want a political fight on a divisive issue they say was resolved years ago.
- Hundreds of frail, elderly Utahns are on waiting lists for basic human-service programs like Meals on Wheels, a panel of lawmakers was told. Others go into nursing homes, many at great expense to taxpayers, because there's not enough funding for less-expensive programs to help them stay at homes.
"Alternatives (a program operated by counties with state funding) is so important to keep people in their own homes," 85-year-old Nan McPolin testified before the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee. "It costs so much less than a nursing home and people feel so good, so independent and loved."
McPolin, chairperson of the Summit County Council of Aging, said that waiting lists in her county kept all but six new people off the roles of the Alternatives program there. She said, of 46 people placed on waiting lists, 11 went into nursing homes, 11 died, nine went to live with relatives and 16 are still waiting.