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Utah Legislature: Bill fails for automatic donations to help domestic violence shelters

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would have made a $10 donation to domestic violence shelters automatic when people apply for a marriage license failed in a House committee vote Monday, after the measure was opposed by the Utah Eagle Forum.

Sponsored by Rep. Christine Johnson, D-Salt Lake, the bill would have made the fee opt-out instead of opt-in when engaged couples apply for county marriage licenses.

A $50 marriage license now funds county costs, a state account for displaced homemakers and the Children's Legal Defense Fund. The optional $10 donation goes to domestic violence shelters such as Peace House in Summit County. Johnson sits on the board there.

Last year, only $400 was collected through the donation program, although 24,500 Utah residents are married annually, Johnson said.

Despite her pleas, the House Government Operations Committee rejected HB242 on a 7-3 vote.

Utah Eagle Forum Vice President Dalane England called Johnson's proposal "an undue burden on marriage."

Johnson responded that because married people are guaranteed potential users of the aid, it's fair to ask them for the help.

Domestic violence shelters in Utah get little taxpayer help, Johnson said, and most of the cash comes from the federal government. Funding hasn't increased for a decade and could be cut further this year, she said.

"We have families that are in limbo, and we need to create additional opportunities to get them out of limbo and get them back in a healthy place," Johnson said.

More than half of people in domestic violence shelters are from nuclear families, she said.

Committee members vocalized worry that making the donation "opt-out" would create confusion for engaged couples, tricking them into donating. Utah resident Laura Dyreng said during public comment that county workers might forget the "opt-out" question but suggested that the donation provision be added to all state licenses, such as those issued for fishing and hunting.

The bill, a priority of Johnson's for many years, will not move forward to the full House.