After just three and a half minutes of debate the House unanimously passed a bill seeking to make child abandonment a felony sailed through the House on Feb. 8.
Sponsored by Rep. Lori Fowlke, R-Orem, HB 23 Child and Family Protections would it a third degree felony for parents to abandon their children. The bill also seeks to make child abandonment a second degree felony if it causes the child serious physical injury or if the parents receive any benefit in abandoning the child.
The bill defines child abandonment as a parent or legal guardian intentionally ceasing to maintain physical custody of a child without making reasonable arrangements for his or her care and provision. It also holds parents less accountable if they were ordered or coerced into abandoning their children.
In her introduction to HB 23, Fowlke told the House that it was intended to target leaders of fundamentalist churches (mainly splinter groups from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) who force families to kick out their children, particularly teenage boys. The popular press has dubbed these abandoned teens – who are typically thrown out so older men in the community can marry teenage girls – as “the lost boys.”
“We have a couple of entities in various parts of the state that have taken it upon themselves to rearrange our families and have done it under the guise of a religious enterprise,” Fowlke said.
No representatives had follow-up questions for Fowlke, an Orem attorney who introduced this bill in the 2007 legislative session. Although the House unanimously passed the bill last year, the senate was unable to find time to vote on it before the session’s end.
Although Fowlke has said that the bill is intended only to target religious sects such as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, local gay rights group Equality Utah has said that HB 23 will benefit all minors, including gay children at risk for being kicked out of their homes.
“What [Rep. Fowlke] doesn’t realize is that most homeless youth aren’t homeless because of polygamy but because they’re LGBT and got kicked out,” Will Carlson, Equality Utah’s Manager of Public Policy told QSaltLake earlier this session.
HB 23 was scheduled to be heard before the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Feb. 12. However, the committee was not able to address it before the day’s scheduled Senate Floor time. It will be heard later in the session.