The Senate unanimously approved a bill seeking to make child abandonment a felony on Feb. 21.
Sponsored by Rep. Lorie Fowlke, R-Provo and Senate majority leader Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, 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.
Senators passed the bill two minutes after Bramble’s introduction on a vote of 26-0 with three absent. The House also passed the bill unanimously on Feb. 8.
Fowlke has previously said that the bill was written to target leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who force families to kick out their children – particularly teenage boys so older men in the community can marry teenage girls. However, local gay rights group Equality Utah has said that HB 23 will have the unintended benefit of protecting all minors forced out of their homes, including gay youth.
The bill will now head to Gov. John Huntsman, Jr.’s desk for signature.