After losing a federal grant to provide support for women and children grappling with abuse in polygamous communities, Utah's attorney general plans to ask state lawmakers to help pay for it.
The coordinator of the Safety Net Committee possibly will be part of a larger appropriations package dealing with domestic violence and abuse. That may be the only way it could get through the Legislature, said Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem.
"If, in fact, it's going to be strictly for the polygamous situation, they're going to have a higher burden of proof," Valentine said Thursday. "If it is for a ... broader, general population, they will have a very favorable outcome."
Valentine has lent his support to appropriating money for the broader purpose. The Utah Attorney General's Office is seeking funding to pay for a full-time coordinator, a case manager and funding a 24-hour domestic violence hotline.
Spawned from a 2003 town hall meeting about the "polygamy problem," the Safety Net Committee was created with advocates, representatives from polygamous groups and bureaucrats working together. Nonprofit organizations and social service agencies also were drafted to help out.
"It's always been a full-time job. I don't feel like I have the time or the resources to give what's actually needed," said Paul Murphy, who has acted as the Utah attorney general's Safety Net coordinator.
A $700,000 federal grant initially paid for a case manager, emergency housing, food and other necessities to help women and children dealing with abuse and neglect in closed societies. Authorities estimate that federal grant helped as many as 1,300 people in polygamous communities.
With the money gone, those who help battered women and abused children in polygamy have had to scale back their efforts. The DOVE Center, a domestic violence shelter in St. George, has canceled some family support groups and parenting classes. A domestic violence hotline may have to cut hours.
Those are things that Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said are desperately needed.
"With Warren Jeffs' conviction and sentencing, that whole world is opening up," Shurtleff said in an interview with the Deseret Morning News. "There are women and children who will need help, and we have to continue."
Jeffs, 52, is serving time in the Utah State Prison for rape as an accomplice. The polygamist sect leader performed a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and her 19-year-old cousin.
The Fundamentalist LDS Church has been the principal target of Safety Net outreach efforts. The Utah Attorney General's Office hopes lawmakers will appropriate money toward a nonprofit organization that will coordinate the effort, with oversight from a steering committee.
Valentine said Shurtleff can make a case for supporting women and children in Utah, regardless of where they come from.
"If he just says, 'I want $300,000 for a polygamy czar' no, he won't be able to win that appropriation," Valentine said.
Murphy said equal access to justice, safety and resources that can help needs to be made available to people in isolated polygamous communities."This is a state issue, and it's about time that the state is stepping forward to help address it," he said. "And to help pay for someone to resolve all the issues and all the problems that have been caused by 100 years of closing our eyes and assuming there wasn't any problems."
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