A bill filed by Rep. Harvey Hilderbran would increase the minimum age of marriage with parental consent and ban stepparents from marrying stepchildren.
The Fundamentalist Church of Latter-day Saints, which has historically been based in the twin towns of Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, began erecting buildings on the YFZ Ranch about a year ago near Eldorado in Schleicher County.
Former members have accused the group of coercing girls as young as 14 to marry, sometimes to their relatives, and staging a political takeover of local government in Colorado City and Hildale.
A bill filed by state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, would raise the minimum age of marriage with parental consent from 14 to 16, make it illegal for stepparents to marry stepchildren and toughen residency requirements to run for office.
A separate bill filed by Hilderbran would also allow the Schleicher County hospital district to switch from at-large seats to single-member districts to prevent the sect from taking control of the board and its funds.
Similar laws regarding underage marriage are on the books in Utah and Arizona but have not been effective in curbing polygamy.
“What I’m hoping to accomplish is to keep Eldorado and Schleicher County from becoming like Colorado City where this cult came from — and not only protect them but keep it from happening anywhere else in Texas,” Hilderbran said Monday.
Salt Lake City lawyer Rod Parker, who represents the sect in some legal matters, said he is concerned by Hilderbran’s comments.
“It appears he is specifically targeting them,” Parker said. “That doesn’t seem appropriate to me.”
Because polygamy is one of the group’s core beliefs, it is nearly impossible to enact laws that will stop them, Parker said.
“They believe in order to reach salvation they must practice polygamy,” Parker said. “There’s not a lot the state can do to stop someone who thinks their eternal salvation is at stake.”
Jimmy Doyle, Schleicher County justice of the peace, said he doesn’t expect the legislation to deter the group’s activities.
“The laws of the United States require a formal complaint to be sworn out, and I don’t see anyone walking into my office to swear out one,” Doyle said. “Until that happens, it doesn’t make much difference.”