SB 203: Due Process in Termination of Parental Rights
This bill passed the Senate unanimously and the House with a vote of 48-19.
As Senator Todd Weiler puts it, the state’s ability to terminate parental rights is the civil equivalent of the criminal death penalty. For that reason, protections are needed to ensure parental rights are given due process.
In a criminal process, a person is constitutionally entitled to legal defense if they are indigent, meaning they are unable to afford an attorney. Sen. Weiler’s Senate Bill 203 provides the same for Utahns whose parental rights are facing termination but who cannot afford an attorney on their own.
The bill also ensures that a juvenile court judge cannot compel the Division of Child and Family Services (DCFS) to pursue termination if they feel that is not the proper course of action. This is in response to an unfortunate incident in which a judge held an attorney in contempt for refusing to pursue termination of parental rights because the judge wanted that to happen, but the state did not agree that that was the right decision.
The gravity of these cases demands due process is protected and that termination of parental rights only be pursued when those who understand the situation best deem it the appropriate course of action.