A bill to amend the state's policies on domestic violence and another to create a task force to study the issue won approval from the Social Services Interim Committee Wednesday.
Besides changing the name of the Spouse Abuse Act to the Domestic Violence Amendments, the legislation focuses on protective orders with four major changes. The bills are sponsored by Rep. R. Mont Evans, R-Riverton.A protective order is a restraining order issued by a judge at a hearing attended by both the complainant and the defendant. The order is good for 60 days and is not renewable. The complainant must begin the complicated process again when the order expires - and the threat must be immediate and serious. (A regular restraining order is not available unless it's part of litigation, like divorce.)
Evans' bill would extend the order's effectiveness to 120 days.
The list of people who can seek a protective order would also be broadened to include anyone 16 or older who is a spouse or ex-spouse of the defendant; lives or has lived with him and produced children; pregnant teenagers who have never lived together; and even elderly adults abused by their children.
Under the bill, district judges would no longer be the only people allowed to issue the orders. When the judge is unavailable, a protem could be appointed and orders could also be authorized by telephone. During hearings, a commissioner could be appointed to act as referee.
Arnold G. Gardner, director of the Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, which provides legal assistance to those seeking protective orders, said that time requirements are a major problem with existing laws.
"By law, the hearing has to be set up within 10 calendar - not business -days," he said. "And you have to give him (the defendant) five working days notice. So you may not even have time to serve him. And if you miss it, you have to start the whole procedure over."
The amendments extend the deadline for a hearing to 20 calendar days, with a provision that the defendant can have it earlier with two days' notice to the complainant.
Violation of a protective order's first two provisions - stay away from the victim and off the property - is a Class B misdemeanor.
The other bill would establish a task force to examine all aspects of domestic violence and specifies the task force's composition.
"This is a social problem we've only turned our attention to relatively recently," Bob Terragno, director of Community Counseling Center, said. "And the current laws were passed with the best intentions. But it's a young field and understanding of the problem is advancing, unfolding and evolving. That's why we need a task force. To really look at all the issues and help us improve the way we do things."
The bills will be considered during the 1989 legislative session.