Making dating apps safer and celebrating Diwali: Day 18 at the Utah Legislature

Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, gestures to Hindu Priest Sathish Kumar Niyarthi after speaking about SB46 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday. The bill would make Diwali a state commemorative period.

Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, gestures to Hindu Priest Sathish Kumar Niyarthi after speaking about SB46 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday. The bill would make Diwali a state commemorative period. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers capped off the third full week of the legislative session passing a number of bills, including rules to make dating apps safer, and adding Diwali as a state commemorative period.

Here's what lawmakers passed on Friday:

Dating app safety

After a 2022 study by Brigham Young University professors showed that 14% of rapes committed in Utah between 2017 and 2020 occurred during an initial meetup arranged through online dating apps, House Minority Leader Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, introduced a bill to make online dating safer.

HB18 would require online dating services to have pop-up safety ads with best practices for staying safe, such as sharing location with a trusted friend or relative, and having a way to get out of the situation if needed, among other precautions.

Romero said the bill would also require dating services to notify members if they've received and responded to a message from a banned member, and makes resources more accessible and available for survivors of assault or rape.

HB18 passed the Senate unanimously on Friday, after clearing the House unanimously last month. It now heads to the governor for his signature.

Commemorating the Festival of Lights

The Senate also gave initial approval to Sen. Lincoln Fillmore's bill to make Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights, a commemorative period in Utah. SB46 would also allow for the use of fireworks for five days during the festival, which lands between mid-October and mid-November, based on the Hindu lunisolar calendar.

Fillmore, R-South Jordan, was joined on the Senate floor by Hindu Priest Sathish Kumar Niyarthi — who also led the chamber in prayer at the start of the morning session.

"I appreciate Utah's Indian community," Fillmore said. "Their collaborative efforts to organize events to include the neighboring communities, as well as their efforts to increase education about Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, have helped create a better sense of understanding in our state. This bill recognizes others' cultures, contributing to the wonderful tapestry that is Utah."

Fillmore — who lives near the India Cultural Center of Utah — told KSL.com last month that the idea for the bill came from a constituent who told him people in the Indian community haven't been able to "celebrate in the same way that other cultures celebrate their most important days."

SB46 still needs one more vote in the Senate, before being sent to the House for consideration.

Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, talks with Hindu priest Sathish Kumar Niyarthi after speaking about SB46 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday. SB46 would make Diwali a state commemorative period.
Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, talks with Hindu priest Sathish Kumar Niyarthi after speaking about SB46 at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday. SB46 would make Diwali a state commemorative period. (Photo: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

Health care visitation

HB133, which would require health care facilities to publish their policies for visitation by family members and friends, passed unanimously in the Senate Friday, after clearing the House last week.

Senate President Pro Tempore Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, who is the floor sponsor of the bill, said he wants to "make sure that people have equal access to loved ones that are in a care facility. ... This gets that done."

During discussion on the House floor, several lawmakers told stories of being unable to visit loved ones who were hospitalized due to rules put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.

HB133 now heads to the governor to be signed into law.

Gender identity in schools

A bill mandating that school districts give parents access to their children's records about their gender identity received final approval from the Senate on Friday. SB100 is one of several bills related to transgender youth to pass in the initial weeks of the legislative session, but has received less public backlash after it was substituted to essentially codify existing policy in school districts.

Sponsored by Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, the bill would require that school districts give parents access to educational records for their children, if their children have asked the school and teachers to address them by a gender identity that is different from their biological sex at birth.

Having already passed the House, SB100 now awaits the governor's signature.

Criminal investigations in schools

Finally, the House passed a bill that would require school employees to take a paid leave of absence if they are investigated for abuse of a minor. HB195 sponsor Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, said the bill is the result of a constituent, who was abused by a school employee and for 412 days, had to "go to school and see the individual who had assaulted her."

The leave would be paid so it wouldn't harm those who are innocent. If convicted, employees would need to pay back all salary compensation received while they were on leave.

HB195 passed the House 42-30 and will be sent to the Senate.

Contributing: Kailey Gilbert

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Bridger Beal-Cvetko covers Utah politics, Salt Lake County communities and breaking news for KSL.com. He is a graduate of Utah Valley University.

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