Utah Attorney General is pressed on polygamy

Hearing on ‘lost boys’ bill becomes a critique of state’s effort to stop abuse

A legislative hearing Thursday on providing some legal relief to throwaway youths turned into an inquiry into state efforts to crack down on abuse in polygamous communities.

Attorney General Mark Shurtleff testified before the Senate Human Services Committee in favor of HB30, which would allow homeless, runaway and forsaken teens to seek legal emancipation from their parents.

Shurtleff said the bill would assist in efforts to help the so-called “lost boys” – youths shunned by their elders in polygamous communities straddling the Utah-Arizona border.

Committee members unanimously endorsed HB30, but not before lawmakers pressed the state’s top prosecutor for a progress report on enforcement of crimes within polygamous communities.

Lawmakers asked Shurtleff if there is more the state could do to penalize polygamists who abandon their children.

A Salt Lake City attorney recently prepared a mock-up of a bill that would do just that, said House committee leader Rep. Bradley G. Last. The St. George Republican suggested such a tool might be used by law enforcement to infiltrate notoriously insular polygamous sects.

Shurtleff said his attorneys are still reviewing the proposal. But he said most of the “lost boys” he has interviewed shy from prosecution.

“They feel their parents are victims as well,” said Shurtleff. He acknowledged “we can do more” to crackdown on abuse, but said “in the meantime we have a lot of kids who need help.”

“This isn’t just one or two boys. We have identified well over 400 by name,” testified Shurtleff.

Shurtleff said most wind up homeless, though they have the skills and desire to work and survive on their own.

Because of their age, they run into legal roadblocks to achieving full independence, said Shurtleff.

HB30 sponsoring Salt Lake City Democratic Rep. Roz McGee said emancipation frees a minor to do many things that adults take forgranted, such as buy and sell property, earn and borrow money, enroll in college, obtain medical care without a parent’s consent and access government aid. It does not turn teens into instant adults, she said, stressing that emancipated youths would still be barred from underagedrinking and smoking and must abide by curfews and other laws.

Two dozen states have emancipation laws on the books. Charities and child welfare workers estimate emancipation wouldbenefit about 12 to 15 Utah youths a year.

“It’s a rarity. It’s certainly not used by children who are upset with their parents,” said the bill’s co-sponsor Orem Republican Rep. Lorie Fowlke, a family attorney.

A mirror image of legislation hung up in a traffic jam of bills last year, HB 30 is supported by the criminal justice community, advocates for crime victims and prosecutors.

It now heads to the full House for debate.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Salt Lake Tribune, USA
Jan. 20, 2006
Kirsten Stewart

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday January 21, 2006.
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