SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker is reviving an effort to ensure protections for survivors of domestic and sexual violence after their aggressors are released from jail.
The legislative proposal also seeks to give guidance to judges, police and attorneys on the court orders designed to keep victims and their families safe ahead of a trial.
"This is just providing clarity," said bill sponsor Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City. "Our goal was just to make sure that with this, victims knew what their rights were, the alleged perpetrator knew what their rights were, and law enforcement knows what they have to do, as well."
The same bill ran out of time before getting a final vote in last year's legislative session. And it is one of several measures filed ahead of the 2019 Legislature that seek to boost victims' rights and safety.
Romero said her measure is important because it would help protect survivors of sexual violence and abuse at a time when they are vulnerable to harm and intimidation.
In Utah, judges now can bar suspected domestic violence offenders from contacting or harassing victims as the case plays out in court. HB19 makes it clear that they can also impose the orders on those charged with sexual offenses, in addition to abuse of children and vulnerable adults.
The bill would create safeguards for the accused, too.
It clarifies that those who were arrested — but later had their cases dropped — don't have to continue following a pretrial order barring contact with the victim and possibly others. It's one term a person often must agree to in order to be released ahead of an initial court date.
Under the proposed law, if a prosecutor doesn't file charges within 30 days of an arrest, the no-contact directive would expire.
Romero said the bipartisan bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, builds on a 2018 Utah law that made protective orders available to those who are dating or broken up but not married or living together, even if no one has been criminally charged.
The measure was informed by the death of a 39-year-old Sandy mother and her 6-year-old son. Memorez Rackley's ex-boyfriend, Jeremy Patterson, opened fire on a car full of children after school in June 2017, killing Rackley and her son Jase, and injuring two more kids. At the time of her death, Rackley couldn't have obtained a protective order even though she made a previous stalking report, because she and Patterson never wed or moved in together.
The new proposal also aims to close what Romero says is a gap related to defendants and victims who share custody of children. It makes clear that a judge can hand down a no-contact order that allows for some limited contact for visits with kids under the age of 18.
The proposal follows extensive negotiation with other lawmakers, prosecutors, police, advocates and survivors, Romero said.
The Salt Lake Democrat is bringing back another bill from last year to strengthen Utah law against human trafficking. It would clarify that anyone who knowingly benefits from the smuggling of a child for forced labor or sexual exploitation can be criminally charged, and there is no statute of limitation on child trafficking.4 comments on this story
Another Utah measure seeks to strengthen victims' rights to ensure their cases don't languish in law enforcement offices.
Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, proposes that a year after someone is targeted in a violent felony crime — or has a loved one disappear or die in a homicide — they can first ask a police chief or sheriff, then the county prosecutor and finally the Utah Attorney General's Office to review the case.
The proposal sets a deadline of 30 days for an agency to review a request and 15 days to respond.
The 2019 legislative session convenes at the state Capitol on Jan. 28.