When Attorney General Paul Van Dam suggested last year that enforcement of a new domestic violence law might be unconstitutional, several lawmakers and battered women cried foul. Some police jurisdictions stopped enforcing any of the four new domestic violence laws, while others enforced all provisions, including the one in question.
At issue was whether or not police could issue a "no-contact" order to individuals suspected of domestic violence. Van Dam suggested that such an order, issued without due process, would lead to legal problems.Now a compromise has been suggested that would eliminate the question entirely.
Instead of issuing a no-contact order, law enforcement officers would arrest a suspect if they thought there would be continued violence, if the victim had been seriously injured or if a weapon was used. And the suspect would stay in jail at least until the close of the next court day unless he agreed in writing to stay away from the victim.
That compromise is the key provision of SB129, sponsored by Sen. Boyd Storey, R-Eden, and lauded by judges, members of the domestic violence task force, battered women, advocates and Van Dam.
It is also one of five domestic violence and spouse abuse bills wending its way through the legislative process during the last 10 days of the session.
"The bills we have will clean up a lot of the gaps in domestic violence laws," said Dave Condie, domestic violence program specialist in the Division of Family Services and a member of the task force that created the original legislation. "They take some of the enforcement issues and resolve them."
The most widely publicized bill, Substitute HB256, prohibits rape of a spouse. Currently, there is an exception for spousal rape in the law. That bill, sponsored by Rep. Nancy S. Lyon, R-Bountiful, received unanimous approval from the House Human Services Standing Committee Friday. The bill has bi-partisan support from 16 co-sponsors.
Opponents said other laws would protect spouses. Another objection to the bill was that it might be threatening or damaging to the marriage relationship.
But Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, a supporter of the bill, said that it could as easily be claimed that laws against rape are also unnecessary because there are other laws that could apply. And as for the claim that the law might damage a marriage, he said, "I submit if a man is raping his wife, the marriage is already in jeopardy."
Rep. Jerrold Jensen, R-Salt Lake, called himself a "convert" to the bill. A week ago, he said, he feared the bill would be used by a "vindictive wife who would choose to get at her husband in a divorce proceeding." But he is now convinced that "controls are built into the system" to prevent that.
SB178, sponsored by Sen. Winn Richards, D-Ogden, would expand the domestic violence protective-orders laws. The terms of a properly served ex parte protective order, which is temporary, could remain in effect until a certified protective order is served on a defendant. The courts would have more flexibility in the content of protective orders. SB178 also expands the definition of assault from causing bodily injury to "causes or creates a substantial risk of body injury." And it redefines telephone harassment.
HB56, sponsored by Rep. R. Mont Evans, R-Riverton, would allocate $10,000 so the Division of Family Services could provide two stipends to graduate students to set up a statewide volunteer network to help victims of domestic violence. The bill has passed in the House and is now being considered by the Senate.
Evans also sponsored HB33, which would establish an 11-member task force to examine the issue of spousal rape. Members of the task force, estimated to cost $10,000, would look at how other states protect victims of spousal rape, evaluate and try to improve prosecution of spousal rape and recommend state statutory changes to the Judiciary Interim Committee. The task force would end in December. That bill won approval from a House standing committee.