Victims of dating violence would be granted the right to file for protective orders in a bill passed by a House committee on Wednesday.

Current law makes protective orders applicable only to spouses and cohabitants who are victims of domestic violence.

Vigorous debate accompanied the hearing of HB247, sponsored by House Minority Whip David Litvack, D-West Valley, who characterized his legislation as addressing "a significant problem in our society."

"Dating violence is very similar to domestic violence," Litvack said. "Current protective orders are only obtainable through cohabitant defintions ... but do not provide the same protections" for dating relationships. Litvack's proposal extended these rights to victims age 16 and older.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the pro-family group, Utah Eagle Forum, testified at the heariing that courts issue protective orders "frivolously" and that they should not extend to teenagers.

"Teenagers don't always think like they should," Ruzicka said. "I don't think we should bring criminal penalties against teenagers for doing something stupid."

HB247 was amended by the committee to raise the base age from 16 to 18.

Alana Kindness from the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, who testified in support of Litvack's bill, was disappointed with the amendment and said "making the bill applicable to victims over 18 ... would exclude a huge volume of people."

After the hearing, Litvack acknowledged disappointment with the watered down version of his bill, but said he was "comfortable with the art of compromise." He also discounted some of the opposition testimony.

"The idea that courts issue protective orders frivolously is simply untrue," Litvack said. He cited statistics compiled by legislative counsel that indicate, based on Utah Third District Court records, only about 50 percent of filings for protective orders are issued by the court.

Passed out with a favorable recommendation by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice standing committee, the bill will return to the House floor for further action.

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