SALT LAKE CITY — Utah lawmakers approved a measure on Friday that aims to curb dating violence by protecting people from someone they’re linked to romantically, but not living with.
Bill sponsor Jennifer Seelig, R-Salt Lake City, said the new protection would fill a gap in state laws.
“If your granddaughter or grandson goes out on a date and gets beat up,” Seelig told lawmakers, that grandchild, if over 18 years old, couldn’t secure a restraining order with law enforcement.
“This is protecting a vulnerable group,” she said.
Under the bill, victims of relationship violence could obtain a 180-day restraining order. If a court later finds someone was wrongly accused, that person may recover attorney’s fees and have the act expunged from his or her record.
But other lawmakers criticized the measure, saying legislators should keep the law broad to let judges decide whether restraining orders are necessary in a given case.
Republican Rep. Lavar Christensen of Draper opposed the bill, saying courts already provide protective orders for people in a broad range of circumstances. Christensen said that a specific bill to protect people who are dating is unnecessary.
Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, criticized the measure for possibly tying up district courts. “We are involving very busy district court judges as dating mediators,” he said.
Rep. Douglas Sagers, R-Tooele, opposed the bill on the grounds that Utah law does not define “dating.”
“I believe that we’re extending an additional right that does not need to be extended,” he said.
Dating violence warrants its own legislation, Seelig said, because it is “the beginning of a trusted relationship” in which people exchange personal details, including where they live.
Dating also carries an emotional charge that is unlikely to occur between two strangers in the street, she said.
The bill struck a personal chord for Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Salt Lake City. She praised a provision of the bill that she said would help protect people from stalkers, adding that a man who thought himself her boyfriend caused “several months of sheer terror for our daughter and her family.”
Utah is among a handful of other states including Rhode Island, Kentucky and California with similar efforts to limit dating violence in the past few years. The bill now goes to the Senate for approval.