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Utah governor signs bills focused on domestic violence, child health care

Posted at 3:35 PM, Apr 11, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox and Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson held a bill signing ceremony on Tuesday, calling attention to a series of new laws combating domestic violence and increasing health care for children.

The bills, passed in the 2023 legislative session, expand victim services across Utah. One requires all police agencies in Utah to conduct what are known as "lethality assessments." It's a series of questions police officers will be required to ask when responding to a domestic violence call. Those questions, victim advocates say, can help determine someone's risk of being murdered.

"These things that you’re telling me actually have been shown to increase lethality, increase your risk of death," said Liz Owens, the director of YWCA of Utah, which runs a shelter in downtown Salt Lake City. "We’d like to help you get to a safe place, and that safe place is YWCA of Utah and our 15 sister shelters across the state."

The bill to require the assessments was personally championed by Lt. Gov. Henderson, whose cousin was killed in a murder-suicide last year. Her family has said that such a law could have saved Mandy Mayne's life.

"This is something that we can do better. We will do better. We will save lives. I know that," Lt. Gov. Henderson said at Tuesday's ceremony held at the YWCA of Utah.

Another new law helps people leaving an abusive relationship get out of a rental contract or lease. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, said many people end up becoming homeless because they can't be in their place.

"They flee their violent partner and then they’re still stuck in a lease with that violent partner," she told FOX 13 News.

Just as important as the new laws are millions in funding the legislature appropriated to expand victim services statewide.

"We provide shelter, food, child care, access to resources. It’s a really expensive endeavor. It’s an honorable endeavor. It’s an important endeavor," Owens said. "But it costs money and there isn’t enough of it. So to see the state’s investment means a lot."

Gov. Cox also focused attention at Tuesday's ceremony on bills he said helped children, including streamlining adoption papaerwork. One, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, expands the Children's Health Insurance Program. Another somewhat controversial bill, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, expanded Medicaid coverage to include family planning services and postpartum care. The governor acknowledged that bill was run partly in response to laws restricting abortion. But he said if Utah cared about life, they needed to do more.

"Not just life before birth, but especially life after birth. That includes the health of the mother and the child," he told FOX 13 News. "One way to do that is to expand Medicaid coverage postpartum to 12 months. We felt it was very important. It was a little controversial, but I'm grateful we were able to get that over the finish line."

The governor also praised a new law expanding "caregiver compensation," which provides money for people to stay home and care for a loved one with disabilities.

"It is so freeing," Lisa Thornton said of the new law.

FOX 13 News reported on Thornton's situation in 2021, when funding for the program that was created in the COVID-19 pandemic was in danger of running out. The legislature this year ended up funding it.

"This is saving families so they can spend the time taking care of their child who has special needs," she said Tuesday.

Gov. Cox also called attention to a series of gun safety bills. One allows for a domestic violence victim to surrender firearms in a household to law enforcement for safe-keeping. A judge would review whether a perpetrator could have them back. Another by Rep. Tyler Clancy, R-Provo, allows an employer to seek a protective order on behalf of a workplace at risk of violence.