- A Utah Senate committee unanimously approved a bill that would make polygamy an infraction rather than a felony, as it’s been considered for 85 years. The bill will now move to the full state Senate.
- Supporters argue that the current law isolates polygamous groups and creates an environment of fear that makes victims less likely to report abuse.
- Those in opposition of the bill worry it would give abusive leaders more power.
- Opposers also argue that victims are likely to still fear their leaders if polygamy is decriminalized and said the current law should remain in place because it protects them.
A bill that could decriminalize polygamy in Utah was unanimously approved by a state Senate committee on Monday.
Bigamy, the act of two people getting married when one is already married to another person, has been considered a felony in Utah for 85 years. The proposed legislation would change it to be an infraction, an offense aligned with traffic violations. Infractions hold no jail time in Utah.
Though polygamy has been outlawed in the state for decades, certain religious groups still practice it. For years, the Utah attorney general’s office has declined to prosecute polygamists except when they commit other crimes as well.
Republican Sen. Deidre Henderson is the bill’s chief sponsor. She believes the current law is essentially ineffective and actually creates more problems like isolating polygamist groups and criminalizing people who otherwise commit no crimes.
Henderson argued that the current law creates an environment of fear that pushes polygamists into hiding, allowing for more abuse and other crimes linked to polygamy to take place. Supporters of the bill pointed to the case of polygamist leader Warren Jeffs who is currently serving a life sentence for sexually assaulting girls that he considered his plural wives.
“The law is a failure. It hasn’t stopped polygamy at all and it’s actually enabled abuse to occur and remain unchecked,” Henderson said when arguing for her bill.
Support for Bill
Henderson has been backed by multiple individuals and groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the Statewide Association of Prosecutors.
Current and former members of polygamist communities also spoke out in support of the bill.
“It’s an easy solution to me to bring some people out of the shadows and then let’s aggressively target abuse,” Alina Darger, a plural wife, said.
Shirlee Draper, a former member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (FLDS), shared her story with the members of the Senate committee on Monday. She said she left the polygamous community when Warren Jeffs became the leader.
“But it took me six years to leave because I was swept up with the guilt in the way current statute was written,” Draper said.
Draper works as a victim advocate and argued that while other violent cases from a variety of families and backgrounds are seen as unrelated, polygamists are unfairly assumed to be committing these acts.
Opposition of Bill
While the bill has received support from a notable amount of people, other former members of polygamist communities have spoken up to oppose it.
Ora Barlow, an ex-member of the FLDS, argued the current law could be the only thing protecting potential victims because they might still fear their religious leaders.
“As a child growing up there, I can tell you the only friend I felt like I had was the law,” Barlow said. “When the law did take effect and the leaders were put in prison, I actually felt free. And I know most of my family and my friends and they felt free, from the law having done its job.”
Melissa Ellis expressed a similar sentiment, saying she worried that abusive polygamist leaders could view the bill as a victory.
“Those men are going to have more power and more control over their victims than they did before,” she said.
Ellis also noted a recent law that allows money from the state’s crime-victims fund to be given to people leaving polygamist communities, to help them in a time of transition.
“We need more laws in place that are going to help the victims,” she said.
Others condemned the bill for its push to make polygamy acceptable, arguing that the practice is inherently oppressive toward women.
“To make this an infraction? You’re essentially saying this is an OK lifestyle,” said Angela Kelly, the director of the Sound Choices Coalition, a nonprofit against polygamy.
The bill will now move to the full state Senate for consideration.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (Fox13) (Associated Press)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.