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Polygamy ‘recriminalized’ under new Utah law

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Gary Herbert signed the last remaining bills passed by the Utah State Legislature.

Beyond some major changes to Utah’s liquor laws, another big bill signed on Tuesday was House Bill 99, which effectively “re-criminalizes” polygamy in Utah. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, makes it a crime for someone to live with multiple people and “purport” to be married.

The Utah Attorney General’s Office pushed for the bill to clarify the law in the aftermath of a lawsuit leveled by reality TV polygamist Kody Brown and his wives against the state. A federal judge in Utah sided with the Browns and struck down a portion of the state’s historic ban on plural marriage (Utah abandoned polygamy as a condition of statehood). The case wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to hear it, making polygamy illegal again.

While lawmakers insisted they were also offering an olive branch to people seeking to leave polygamy and report abuses and not seeking to go after consenting adults in plural relationships, those in fundamentalist Mormon communities protested the bill as an attack on their religious freedom and way of life.

Members of Utah’s polygamous communities protest against a bill they said targets their community. (Photo by Ben Winslow, FOX 13 News)

“It’s not going to keep me quiet. Unfortunately for a lot of communities this will impact them,” said Joe Darger, a polygamist who lobbied lawmakers against the bill. “It will set work backwards as far as opening up dialogues. This causes more of these communities and families that are fearful to go further underground and covers the safety net that is there for real abuse victims that have nothing to do with polygamy.”

Darger told FOX 13 late Tuesday he was contemplating a legal challenge to the bill because it targets fundamentalist Mormon families.

“We feel like we have a lawsuit based upon their targeting one specific religious minority population,” he said.

Gov. Herbert told reporters last week when he was still deliberating over the bill that he wanted to ensure Utah was in compliance with the law and recent rulings.

The Sound Choices Coalition, which supports keeping polygamy illegal, issued a statement supporting the bill.

Polygamy is an antisocial unsustainable practice that hurts many, so we are pleased that the state of Utah has taken action to demonstrate that it takes the abuses of polygamy seriously. Polygamy has enjoyed de facto decriminalization for decades, and polygamists will continue to be in no danger of prosecution unless they commit other crimes. We trust that the Attorney General’s Office will use this new law as it uncovers criminal activities within polygamist communities,” the group said in a prepared statement.

Among the other bills signed by the governor on Tuesday: One that allows minors to sue over unwanted exposure to pornography (with exemptions for adult entertainment websites), a bill cracking down on Doxing, and a resolution honoring the transcontinental railroad.

The environmental group HEAL Utah said it was told Gov. Herbert had also signed into law a bill that allows for backyard grilling on bad air days. They had protested Utah grill maker Traeger, which lobbied heavily in favor of the legislation.

The governor did exercise a line item veto on the budget for programs funded, but not passed by the legislature. He also allowed a handful of bills to take effect without his signature.

Here’s the list of bills:

HB0003

Current Fiscal Year Supplemental Appropriations

Sanpei, D.

HB0008S01

State Agency & Higher Education Compensation Appropriations

Last, B.

HB0041

Utah Revised Business Corporation Act Modifications

Peterson, V.

HB0054

Campus Free Speech Amendments

Coleman, K.

HB0055S02

Governmental Nonprofit Entity Compliance Amendments

Coleman, K.

HB0099S01

Bigamy Offense Amendments

Noel, M.

HB0113S01

Nursing Care Facility Amendments

Gibson, F.

HB0126

Student Plan for College and Career Readiness Revisions

Winder, M.

HB0162S02

Driving Under the Influence Classification and Sentencing Revisions

Eliason, S.

HB0250S02

Driving Under the Influence Program Amendments

Fawson, J.

HB0274S04

Human Trafficking Modifications

Romero, A.

HB0293S02

Mountainous Planning District Amendments

Schultz, M.

HB0369S04

Criminal Penalty Enhancements for Sexual Offenses

Fawson, J.

HB0380S01

Sex Offender Registry Amendments

Hall, C.

HB0407S03

Utah Public Land Management Act Amendments

Noel, M.

HB0415S01

Incorporation Filing Amendments

Westwood, J.

HB0429

County Fund Amendments

Hemingway, L.

HB0442S03

Alcohol Amendments

Wilson, B.

HB0448

Community Reinvestment Amendments

Peterson, J.

SB0008S01

State Agency Fees & Internal Service Fund Rate Authorization and Appropriations

Van Tassell, K.

SB0075S01

Child Welfare Amendments

Fillmore, L.

SB0093S01

Property Assessment Notice Amendments

Harper, W.

SB0104

Labor Commission Enforcement Amendments

Buxton, G.

SB0118S01

Criminal Law Amendments

Thatcher, D.

SB0127

State Board of Education Amendments

Millner, A.

SB0185S01

Cause of Action for Minors Injured by Pornography

Weiler, T.

SB0203

Real Estate Trustee Amendments

Davis, G.

SB0209

Budgeting Revisions

Fillmore, L.

SB0227

Doxing Prohibition Amendments

Stephenson, H.

SB0262

Upstart Amendments

Adams, J. S.

SB0263S02

Work-based Learning Amendments

Stephenson, H.

SB0273

Energy Development Amendments

Adams, S.

SB0279

Alcohol Modifications

Stevenson, J.

SCR002

Concurrent Resolution on Air Ambulance Providers

Harper, W.

SCR010

Concurrent Resolution Recognizing the 150th Anniversary of the First Transcontinental Railroad

Knudson, P.

Here’s the line-item veto bill:

SB0003

Appropriations Adjustments

Stevenson, J.

Here’s the bills that will go into law without the governor’s signature:

HB0244

General Fund Budget Reserve Account Amendments

Ivory, K.

HB0446

Sentencing Guidelines Amendments

Ivory, K.

HB0136

Board of Education Revisions

Kennedy, M.

SB0032

Child Welfare Auditing Amendments

Davis, G.

SB0214S01

Public Water Supplier Amendments

Iwamoto, J.

SB0109S06

Small Employer Retirement Program

Weiler, T.

SB0011S02

Water Development Commission Amendments

Dayton, M.