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Bill would allow jury trials in parental rights cases

Published March 3, 2014 7:55 pm

Utah House • Supporters say they aim to make the process more difficult and give the parents more time to prepare their case.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A bill that would allow jury trials to decide to terminate parental rights passed the House Monday after an hour of debate weighing children's versus parents' rights.

Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, says HB318 attempts to provide due process for parents and that it comes from wanting to make terminating parental rights more difficult than it is now. The bill also gives parents more time to prepare their case. Christensen urged members of the House to put themselves into the shoes of parents whose rights might be terminated, saying perhaps more time is needed.

The bill passed the House 46-27, but some lawmakers questioned the effectiveness of the proposed law, saying a jury is more likely to terminate parental rights than a judge trained in family law. Many lawmakers also opposed the bill because it put parents' rights before children's rights.

"The whole idea is that we come before an expert who deals with these things every day. No one is more experienced than a juvenile judge in this issue," said Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville.

"This is a major policy decision, we shouldn't make this lightly. We have already passed legislation this session to study our court system. If we're going to make a major change let's do it that way and not through this bill today," said Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Milcreek.

The bill would mandate a jury trial when requested by parents in a case where custody rights are in jeopardy. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.

— Amy McDonald