Legislation to establish the Utah Marriage Commission in statute headed toward home plate Wednesday as lawmakers unanimously advanced HB147 out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
The measure, sponsored by Rep. LaVar Christensen, R-Draper, will enable the Utah Healthy Marriage Initiative — first launched by former Utah first lady Jacalyn Leavitt in 1998 — to continue in the form of a 17-member commission. HB147 will require ongoing funding of $8,800 per year for basic functioning of the new board.
In pitching the bill, Christensen referred to marriage as "a noble and worthy subject that predates government itself."
"The heart and soul of the commission has really been the marriage and family science components of our universities," Christensen said, also crediting religious communities for strengthening marital bonds.
Even so, over recent decades, marriage has declined by one-third and divorce has doubled, Christensen said, adding that the number of single-parent families is now one in three.
The financial implications of those statistics to Utah represents about $280 million in health and human services, he added.
While the commission might not achieve drastic results, it "attempts to move the needle," said Paul Schvaneveldt, who chairs the Child and Family Studies Department at Weber State University.
"If you can move these trends in a positive direction, that is certainly progress," Schvaneveldt said.
For several years, Utah’s Department of Workforce Services diverted $700,000 in federal Temporary Aid for Needy Families funding to the initiative. However, shrinking TANF funding will halt that practice this June.
"We had to decide whether to keep funding this marriage initiative or to put those dollars directly toward public assistance that helps clients transition into self-sufficiency," said DWS Communications Director Joe Demma.
HB147 now heads to the Senate for consideration.
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