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2 proposals crack down on parents

They feed them, clothe them, love them and teach them; but one thing they can't do is live for them.

So, how responsible should parents be for the actions of their children?Two bills making their way through the Legislature this session try to answer that question - at least when it comes to troubled youngsters.

Rep. Duane Bourdeaux, D-Salt Lake, is sponsoring a bill that would fine parents whose children are continually truant from school. The bill also allows police to ticket students for truancy and possibly impound vehicles driven by the minors.

Bourdeaux's bill was approved by a House standing committee but has yet to come before the full House.

Rep. Pete Suazo, D-Salt Lake, is sponsoring a bill that would allow judges to hold parents financially accountable for restitution owed by a juvenile. The bill limits the liability to $2,000, saying the court must find that a parent or legal guardian failed "to make a reasonable effort to restrain the wrongful conduct of the minor."

Suazo's bill was passed by the Senate and was introduced in the House Monday.

Forcing parents to be more accountable for troubled kids isn't a new concept.

In Fort Washakie, Wyo., police and American Indian tribal courts have turned to a very old but little used law that makes parents criminally responsible for crimes committed by their children.

Locally, only Salt Lake City has tried to hold parents to a similar standard. In December 1995 the City Council sponsored an ordinance aimed at forcing parents to take responsibility for their wayward children and punishing them if they don't.

The effectiveness of that program is being studied by a company auditing the police de-part-ment right now. According to court records, less than half a dozen parents have been charged with any crime associated with the ordinance.

Most of the effort has been in sending troubled teens and their parents to counseling programs. So far, 152 parents have been required to attend counseling classes. Of those, 109 have completed the counseling program.

The auditor will study the cost of the program and whether it's effective in reducing juvenile crime. That report will be given to the Salt Lake City Council in the next few months.

Bourdeaux is the executive director of Colors of Success, a juvenile-crime-prevention program. The bill is a result of his ex-pe-ri-ence.

"I work with the kids," he said. "I know the problems . . . I really feel truancy is the start of a lifelong host of problems. It's a state law (that children attend school) here. We need to have the opportunity as a state to educate those kids."

He said the bill provides exemptions for those students who are home-schooled.

The measure isn't designed to punish parents until they've been given every opportunity to cooperate with school and police, he said.

Bourdeaux's bill is supported by school groups such as the PTA and Utah Education Association. Police also like it.

Salt Lake Police Capt. Bill Shelton said the ability to issue citations to truant students gives officers another option - something concrete - when dealing with juveniles.

"These types of crimes (truancy) are often precursors to more serious types of crimes," Shelton said. "In rare cases, we need to have the capability to also (penalize) the parents. . . . Educational neglect is on the books, but it's extremely difficult to enforce."

"We have parents, unfortunately, who . . . don't properly supervise to the point that there is actual criminal neglect involved."