SALT LAKE CITY — Utahns who flee polygamy will become eligible for crime victims’ reparations if Gov. Gary Herbert signs a bill passed by the state Senate Wednesday.
The measure adds bigamy to the list of crimes that can qualify victims for grants from the Utah Office for Victims of Crime. The office reviews grant applications individually and can award funds for counseling, medical care or other needs.
Fines charged to people convicted of crimes provide the money for the fund.
“We are all so happy,” said Melissa Ellis , who left the Kingston polygamist clan and helped work toward passage of House Bill 214.
She said women need therapy after leaving polygamist relationships but can’t afford it.
“They have to feed themselves before their mental health,” Ellis said.
She said the bill means the state recognizes women and children who flee polygamy as crime victims.
“I hope this will help those who are trying to escape,” she said.
Angela Kelly, director of Sound Choices Coalition, said the bill came about last summer as she was researching ways to generate more funding for polygamy victims and the nonprofit groups that help them.
“This is what they’ve wanted,” Kelly said. “This finally recognizes victims of polygamy.”
She said the societal conversation on polygamy has been mostly about religious rights, “but instead, the real conversation is, this is a crime.”
She said news of the bill has had an impact already.
“We already know of women that are in (polygamy) that are happy about this bill,” Kelly said. “It’s one thing for people who have left, but if we’ve already had an impact for one person, that is huge.”
The bill was sponsored by Rep. Kyle Andersen, R-North Ogden. The House passed the bill 56-17 on Feb. 25.
Senators approved it on a 23-4 vote Wednesday. Voting no, all Republicans, were Deirde Henderson, R-Salt Lake City; Kirk Cullimore, R- Salt Lake City; Lincoln Fillmore R-South Jordan and Daniel McCay, R-Riverton.
The bill now goes to the governor. Upon approval there, it will become law.