SALT LAKE CITY — A Senate committee voted 5-0 Wednesday for a bill to make refugees of polygamy eligible for reparations from the state crime victims’ fund.
House Bill 214, sponsored by Rep. Kyle Andersen, R-North Ogden, now advances to the Senate floor.
The measure specifies that victims of bigamy would be allowed to apply for assistance grants from the Utah Office for Victims of Crime. The agency helps cover crime victims’ medical care and mental health counseling, among other expenses.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said on a recording of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee meeting that he was concerned new claims from polygamy victims may put too much pressure on the fund.
“The fund does not have a lot of money and the demands are high,” Hillyard said.
Fines charged to people convicted of crimes are the fund’s revenue source. Hillyard said that source has been reduced by the 2015 Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which trimmed penalties for drug crimes.
Gary Scheller, director of the crime victims’ office, confirmed the funding flow has been dwindling. It has a goal of maintaining an $8 million balance, but the current total is $2.8 million, he said.
Consequently, grant totals are limited each year so the fund won’t be depleted.
Scheller said he initially shared Hillyard’s concern about the potential volume of polygamy reparations, but his office since determined those claims might amount to only several thousand dollars a year.
The House passed the bill 56-17 on Feb. 25.
“This will help those who feel trapped in a situation which is against the law,” Andersen said during the floor debate. “These are people who need counseling or immediate medical help.”
People who flee polygamy usually have little income and few possessions, he said.
“This is not an anti-polygamy bill,” he said. “This is a crime victims’ advocate bill.”
Crime victims are eligible to apply for grants from the fund even if the perpetrators are not convicted of a crime.
Scheller said only eight bigamy prosecutions have been started in Utah courts in recent years.
During a House committee hearing Feb. 15, women who have left Utah polygamist clans told stories of psychological and sexual abuse and economic devastation.