Domestic Violence Bill Dies in House

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A bill aimed at securing protective orders for victims of dating violence was narrowly defeated in the House on Feb. 22 despite an attempt by its sponsor to make it more favorable to gun rights advocates.

Local gay rights group Equality Utah has supported the bill because of the protections it would grant to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender victims of dating violence and to teenagers.

In his introduction of HB 247 Domestic Violence and Dating Violence Amendments, Rep. David Litvak, D-Salt Lake City, explained that his bill was needed to get protective orders for people who are threatened or abused by people they are dating. Currently, Utah law only allows protective orders to be issued for an individual being threatened by a cohabitating partner.

Litvak has run similar legislation in the House for the past three years.

In his introduction to the bill Litvak clarified what he said were common misconceptions about protective orders: that victims of dating violence can already access them and that such orders are easy to obtain.

“Currently, when law enforcement advocates come across victims of dating violence, often times their last resort is to tell those victims to physically move,” said Litvak, who added that 32 percent of adolescents in Utah have experienced dating violence. “That is the source of protection that is there for them.”

“We are talking about cases where the physical, emotional and sexual abuse we often see in domestic violence is in a dating relationship,” Litvak continued. “What HB 247 would do is provide a mechanism for victims to have some protection of the court.”

During floor debate Litvak also introduced a substitution for his bill that increased the age of those eligible for protective orders from 16 to 18. Further, the substitution clarified that dating violence protective orders would not automatically include a gun restriction for accused parties, as domestic violence protection orders do. Instead, he said judges would be left to determine on a case by case basis if individual incidents of dating violence mandated a weapons restriction.

“We tried to address the concerns of those who have raised the Second Amendment issue,” said Litvak, referring to challenges his bill faced last year over restrictions on weapons for those served dating violence protective orders.

 But this amendment was not enough to convince Steven Mascaro, R-West Jordan. Mascaro questioned Litvak on the bill and said he would not vote for it after learning that those accused of dating violence may have to wait up to two weeks for a due process hearing after a protective order is filed.

“I think that taking a fire arm away from someone who hasn’t had due process puts him in situation where his own self defense would be in jeopardy,” said Mascaro, who added that he “abhorred” dating violence.

Rep. LaWanna Lou Shurtliff, D-Ogden, however, praised Litvak for his bill.

“Protective orders are not perfect, but we do have situations of dating violence where young women sometimes young men are being hurt,” said Shurtliff, who previously worked for several years to pass a bill enabling victims of stalking to get protective orders. “This is a problem we have in our community that needs some help. After we put the protective order in on stalking it made a difference. At least they could call the police and say, ‘I need some help’ and be able to get it.”

The bill narrowly failed in a vote of 32-37 with six legislators absent.

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