A bill that would allow Utahns to seek protective orders against potentially dangerous dating partners earned a favorable vote Wednesday from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The Dating Violence Protective Act, HB50, passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 7-1 vote. The bill would allow adults and emancipated minors to ask judges for protective orders against people they are dating. State law now allows only spouses and people living together to ask for protective orders.
The bill was approved after an hour-long discussion led by sponsor Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City. Seelig provided an array of statistics about violence in dating relationships, noted that 42 other states have similar laws, and said the bill would "fill a gap in the Utah code."
Most committee members seemed supportive. But Sen. Daniel Thatcher expressed several concerns about the bill, including that there was no method to expunge a dating violence protective order. He still voted for the bill, saying he didn't want "perfection to be the enemy of good."
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, was the lone holdout. Madsen praised the bill's objectives, but suggested that allowing protective orders after a single verbal threat went too far. Instead, he suggested, they should be available after one "violent act or two threats."
Lawmakers will evaluate the bill's fiscal note before moving it onto the Senate floor for a final vote. If passed, the measure would cost the courts $124,200 and the Department of Corrections $27,400 in fiscal year 2014.
The bill was approved by the Utah House on Feb. 15 after a fight over exactly who it should cover. At that time, Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, offered an amendment that would have defined dating as a precursor to marriage.
Seelig opposed that amendment, calling it the "institutionalization of discrimination." The fear among supporters of the bill was that because Utah prohibits same-sex couples from marrying, they wouldn't be protected by the bill as amended by Christensen.
In the end, the house rejected Christensen's amendment and approved the bill 61-11.