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Lawmakers Pass Bill Lowering Penalty for Parents of Truant Students

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Members of the Utah House have passed a bill that lowers criminal penalties for parents of truant schoolchildren.

Right now parents could be slapped with a class B misdemeanor if their child has too many unexcused absences at school. Senate Bill 45 would lower that penalty to just an infraction for a parent whose child has 10 or more unexcused absences. After 20 unexcused absences, it would become a class C misdemeanor.

Supporters of the bill say it protects a parents’ right to raise their child as they see fit, but opponents of the bill say in doing so, it would deny children their right to be in school.

“Do you know what compulsory education is for? It’s to protect children,” Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Salt Lake City, a former teacher, said during the House debate on Wednesday.

She said when students miss a lot of school, it can alert their teachers to larger problems at home. “The family isn’t functioning well, there’s drug abuse, there’s physical abuse, kids are forced to stay home and tend other children,” she said.

But the bill’s supporters say it will still punish those parents. Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray, said the bill isn’t going to affect “good parents” who make sure the school knows when their child is going to be absent.

“We’re talking about parents who are generally just parents in name only,” he said. “They birthed the child and haven’t taken much care of it and don’t do what they should be doing as a parent for whatever reason.”

Lawmakers in the House modified the bill and passed it, but Senators have so far refused to agree on certain amendments to the legislation. They have until midnight on Thursday to find common ground before the general session ends for the year.

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