Individuals fleeing polygamy should have access to victim assistance funding, Utah representative argues

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) New House Speaker Brad Wilson conducts business in the House of Representatives, on the first day of the 2019 Utah Legislative session, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. A bill allowing bigamy victims to apply for victim assistance funding passed the House on Monday.

A bill that would open up victim assistance funding for more people escaping from polygamy passed easily in the Utah House on Monday and is bound for the Senate.

Money from the crime victims reparation fund can cover the costs of medical treatment, mental-health services and child-care expenses, explained the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kyle Andersen. Victims can use the aid to meet their immediate needs and get back on their feet in the aftermath of a crime.

Andersen stressed that the bill, HB214, does not increase the punishment for bigamy.

“We are not saying we are coming down harder on polygamy. What we are saying is, we want to help people who are trying to flee the abuses of it,” he said.

In many cases, these individuals were born or coerced into polygamous relationships, are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and have limited education, Andersen, R-North Ogden, said on the House floor.

“To free themselves, these victims often leave absolutely everything they know. They generally have zero family support, and virtually all their resources are left behind,” he said.

To be eligible for the funding, a person must be the victim of “criminally injurious conduct” that has been reported to law enforcement or must be a dependent of a deceased victim. The person requesting the aid must also be cooperative with police and prosecutors, according to state law.

The victims fund is filled by surcharges from criminal fines, penalties and forfeitures. Legislative analysts estimated Andersen’s bill would increase expenses by about $3,500 annually, but the representative hopes that figure will be higher as more victims step forward to ask for help.

Because of the small cost estimate, making bigamy victims eligible for aid for shouldn’t significantly impact the availability of funding for other crime victims, Andersen said.

His bill cleared the House 56-17 and will now be considered in the state Senate.