SALT LAKE CITY -- The definition of gender has stalled in a Senate committee the bill known as Aubree Jo's Law, almost one year to the date after the bill's namesake, 3-year-old Aubree Jo Anderson, died in a car accident.
The Senate Judiciary Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice adjourned Wednesday without discussing House Bill 88, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden.
Wilcox said some committee members have concerns with the word "gender."
The bill, which was approved unanimously by the House Law Enforcement and Justice Committee on Jan. 31 and unanimously by the House on Feb. 14, states that courts cannot discriminate in a custody dispute based on gender, race, ethnicity or religion.
Wilcox said the concern came out of the blue, but he and other supporters are working toward an acceptable compromise and he hopes the bill will come before the committee soon.
Eagle Forum members met with senators on the committee and gave them information indicating other states that have put the word "gender" into a law have met with some difficulties, Gayle Ruzicka, president of the nonprofit organization, said Thursday.
California has a similar bill, Ruzicka said, but has expanded the word gender so it no longer just means male or female. California law defines gender without taking into account the person's biological status.
Ruzicka said she is concerned that Utah will have to legally define gender, which would have to include transsexual individuals.
"(The senators) could see a problem they don't want to deal with," she said.
As long as the word "gender" is in the bill, Ruzicka said, "it won't pass in the Senate."
Ruzicka also said the state does not need HB 88 because federal law prohibits judges from favoring mothers over fathers.
Also, the Utah Supreme Court ruled in 1986 that judges cannot discriminate in custody disputes, Ruzicka said.
Wilcox is sponsoring the bill at the request of constituents Dale and Julie Anderson. Their granddaughter, Aubree Jo Anderson, died Feb. 23, 2011, in a single-car crash after her mother blacked out while driving and slammed into decorative boulders.
Jared Anderson, with help from his parents, had tried to get custody of Aubree Jo, but he was refused. Aubree Jo's mother, Brandi Lee Stilke, had a history of drug abuse.
Stilke is now serving up to five years in Utah State Prison for negligent operation of a vehicle, which caused the toddler's death. Toxicology tests showed Stilke had marijuana and OxyContin in her system at the time of the crash.