‘Escaping Polygamy’ star meets with mother at Utah Legislature

| Courtesy Karolina Wojtasik Shanell, Jessica and Andrea from LMN's "Escaping Polygamy"

Here's a few things that were said or happened Wednesday night in connection with the hearing on the latest bigamy bill, which didn't make the article.

Family reunion

The stars of the reality show "Escaping Polygamy" attended the hearing with their film crew, and one of the show's stars, Jessica Christensen, testified in favor of HB99, which seeks to keep polygamy a felony but requires that the suspects both live together and "purport" to be married.

Before the House Judiciary Committee convened, Christensen ran into her mother, Heidi Foster. Christensen said it was their first meeting in one or two years.

With cameras rolling, Foster hugged her daughter, Christensen recounted in a follow-up interview. Christensen said she asked her mother where she stood on the bill. Foster, who is still a member of the polygamous Davis County Cooperative, said she opposed it.

"I was very respectful, very loving," Christensen, 28, said. "But I said when I was a child you were supposed to protect me and you didn't."

Christensen said she knows what it's like to be a child in the Cooperative, also known as the Kingston Group, and which members just refer to as "The Order." Since Order members aren't protecting children, Christensen said, she is trying to.

"It was a good conversation for me," Christensen said.

The state of Utah removed Christensen from her mother's home when she was 15 because of abuse allegations. The court case ended in 2005. Christensen said she saw Foster again for the first time at a family funeral in 2008 and has seen her occasionally over the years.

"We're like old friends or family friends," Christensen said. "She's only like 16 years older than me. She was a child when she had me. So it's not a true mother-daughter relationship."

Motion to amend

Polygamists literally lined the walls of the committee room waiting for a chance to speak about HB99. Some members of the polygamous enclave of Rockland Ranch drove five hours for the hearing. Then they drove home after.

The committee was scheduled to convene at 4 p.m. It really convened about 4:15 p.m. and discussed some other bills. The hearing on HB99 didn't begin until about 5:45 p.m.

That hearing continued until about 8:25 p.m. By that point, representatives were debating something that was almost the opposite of what sponsor Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, wanted.

The committee members were preparing to vote on an amendment that would make polygamy a misdemeanor. Even then, polygamy could only be prosecuted in conjunction with a felony such as sex abuse, human trafficking or fraud.

But representatives decided they should study the issue more before amending the bill so drastically. They voted to hold the bill — effectively delaying a vote on the amendment to a later date. It was unclear Thursday when the committee will take up the bill again.

Companion bill

Noel also mentioned during the hearing that Sen. Diedre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, may file a bill creating a "safe haven" for people leaving polygamous marriages. Details weren't discussed, and there's no indication such a bill has been filed yet, but Noel and a few of the other representatives indicated that bill would absolve a person of bigamy charges if he or she came forward to law enforcement to report other crimes


Twitter: @natecarlisle

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Jessica Christensen, Shannel DeRieux and Amanda Peterson, from left, who all grew up in polygamous families, are followed around by a film crew as part of the reality show, Escaping Polygamy. The three were at the Utah Capitol on their way to catch a hearing for HB99, which clarifies polygamy is a felony in Utah on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2017.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune Polygamist Joe Darger, center, listens as Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, left, present HB99 to members of the House Judiciary Standing Committee in the House Building Room 20 on Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City Wednesday February 1, 2017. HB99 clarifies polygamy is a felony in Utah.

Steve Griffin / The Salt Lake Tribune Amanda Kingston, left, Shanell DeRieux, and Jessica Christensen, stars of the television show "Escaping Polygamy," listen to a hearing on a bill that would amend Utah's bigamy statutes in the Utah House of Representatives Building in Salt Lake City Wednesday February 1, 2017.