By Samantha Clark
SALT LAKE CITY–A bill that would amend provisions in the Judicial Code related to child protective service orders was placed on hold in the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
Rep. Dixon M. Pitcher, R-Ogden, proposed HB214, a bill that would redefine and broaden child abuse statute. The proposal states that any interested person may file a petition for a protective order on behalf of a child who has been subjected to abuse in the past, is currently being abused, or is danger of being abused in the future.
“Most states across the United States utilize the same statutory language for child protective orders but Utah for some reason has been in exemption to this,” Pitcher said. “Utah law does not permit the prevention of abuse, but only protection of the child once the abuse has occurred.”
Lorraine Brown, a family law practitioner from Ogden and and advocate of changing the law, accompanied Pitcher and gave the committee several scenarios outlining instances of dangerous abuse in the home. She argued that the state of Utah was clearly out of step and that this situations could be prevented if the lawmakers would pass the bill.
“An 18 month-old daughter comes home to mom after parent time with her dad. She has second-degree burns on the back of both of her legs. Mom files a protective order, but she has no evidence,” Brown said. “Even though the child was burned on dad’s watch, mom was not only denied but reprimanded and threatened that if she ever filed an order again, she would be the one investigated.”
Brown told committee members that the hope of the legislation is to give children the same rights that adults in abusive situations have.
“This is a bill that should have happened years ago. This would put adults and children on the same playing field. There is no reason why children should be an exception to this rule,” Brown said.
However, throughout the meeting. many representatives voiced their confusion and concerns on the wording of the bill in regards to some of the statements Brown presented. Rep Edward Redd, R-Logan, questioned language that amended the time frame of when a caregiver could file a protective order for a child who has allegedly been abused.
“I admire what you are trying to do here, I just would hate for spouses in an adversarial relationship to used this code to basically restrain access or visitation to kids based on an alleged abuse, or what looks like abuse but might not be,” Redd said.
Following Redd’s remarks, Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, and Brown got in to a heated tussle regarding the implications of pulling a child from their own home.
“Under what you are saying, I think I could have been removed from my family. Multiple times, the doctor asked me if I was being abused. One time I rode my tricycle down the stairs and got stitches. Actually, monthly I got stitches because of things that I did, because I was having fun,” Ray said. “We value families here. I don’t care what California, New York, or Rhode Island does; all I care about is Utah. I don’t think that we want to copy most states. Let me just tell you, you just changed my vote from a yes to a no on this bill.”
Although most in the room supported the basic ideas of the bill, all representatives stood in strong opposition of passing the bill and agreed the Rep. Pitcher go back and revise the present board and subjected language.
“I think your intentions are good, but the courtroom discussion here did not help your case,” Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said.