Polygamy bill passes Utah House, appears headed for governor

(Tribune file photo) Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, shown in 2017, sponsored the bill that would essentially decriminalize polygamy.

The Utah House passed a bill Wednesday that would reduce the penalties for polygamy among consenting adults.

The 70-3 margin sends SB102 back to the Utah Senate for another vote. The bill has already passed there once, and is likely to do so again. The measure then would go to Gov. Gary Herbert for his signature.

The bill would make polygamy among consenting adults an infraction — an offense less than some traffic tickets. Under current law, such polygamy is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Polygamy in conjunction with crimes such as fraud, abuse, domestic violence and human smuggling would remain a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. A House committee amended SB102 this week to clarify sexual battery in a polygamous household is also punishable by up to 15 years in prison. That amendment is why the Senate must vote on the bill again.

(Nate Carlisle | The Salt Lake Tribune) Hildale Mayor Donia Jessop, right testifies Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee in favor of SB102 as Sen. Deidre Henderson, center, and Melissa Ellis, left, listen. The bill would make polygamy among consenting adults an infraction.

Herbert spokeswoman Brooke Scheffler did not say Wednesday whether he plans to sign SB102. In an email, Scheffler said the governor is “reviewing the bill closely.”

Utah has grappled with what to do about polygamy since before statehood. Wednesday’s debate on the floor of the House framed the discussion in terms of criminal justice.

The House sponsor, Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, noted he has supported lessening the penalties for a number of drug crimes and other offenses. He argued SB102 will make people in plural families more likely to report serious crimes.

“We’ve put more emphasis on helping victims," Snow said, “than imprisoning and jailing offenders for crimes that ought to still be crimes but should be adjudicated in a fair way."

One of the no votes came from Rep. Kyle Andersen, R-North Ogden. He cited statistics from a nonprofit that helps people who have left polygamy showing most exit their communities with no assets, a sixth grade education and have suffered an abuse.

Reducing penalties for polygamy “makes no sense,” Andersen contended. He noted possession of child pornography continues to be a problem, but no one is arguing to lessen those offenses.