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SALT LAKE CITY — In the final minutes of the 2017 Legislature, the Senate voted 15-14 to pass a controversial bill that changes the definition of bigamy to comply with recent court rulings on polygamy.
HB99, which passed the House earlier in the session but didn't surface in the Senate until late Thursday night, now goes to Gov. Gary Herbert for his action.
The bill defines bigamy as both purporting to marry someone while already married and cohabiting with that person. It also enhances the penalty for bigamy committed along with child abuse, fraud and other crimes.
The Senate sponsor of the bill, Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, urged senators to support the bill as a move forward to give law enforcement "the tools that we need on very severe cases."
But several senators raised concerns as the midnight end of the session drew near, including Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City. Davis asked whether more study was needed over the legislative interim.
Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, said the bill "drives bad actors further underground," giving them "more opportunity to have coercion and control" despite an intent to protect people.
"I fear in reality something like this really harms the people we're purporting to help," she said.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, backed the bill, citing its "safe harbor" defense for those leaving polygamist relationships. The bill leaves bigamy a third-degree felony but increases the penalty to a second-degree felony when there are also other crimes.
The bill had attracted hours and hours of testimony in House committees, from both otherwise law-abiding polygamists fearful of prosecution and victims of abuses associated with polygamy.