Huntsman signs 'Lost Boys' bill
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. shakes hands with Rep. Roz McGee

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. shakes hands with Rep. Roz McGee after he signed bill that allows youths to seek legal emancipation from parents.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret Morning News

"Lost boy" Jeremy Nelson speaks to the press Tuesday.

Homeless teens in Utah, whether they've left a polygamous lifestyle or an abusive home life, now have a new legal tool to help them bridge the gap to adulthood.

"I think this is a good chance to start my life," said 15-year-old Bruce Barlow of HB30, the emancipation of a minor bill ceremoniously signed into law by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Tuesday afternoon.

Barlow is a "Lost Boy" of polygamy. He fled the Fundamentalist LDS Church six weeks ago seeking "a better life." He now lives with a cousin in St. George and works full time as a framer but cannot do things like open a bank account for his earnings because of his status as a minor.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff calls that in-between stage "legal limbo" and praised HB30 as an effective way to remove stumbling blocks to education, health insurance and student loans.

"As long as they're in that legal limbo they can't move on with their lives," Shurtleff said Tuesday.

Although state law will continue to value children and families, Huntsman said, "circumstances occasionally exist where a child must be freed from the legal bonds of their parents."

The new law sets up a process through which 16- and 17-year-old Utahns can petition a state juvenile court for legal emancipation from their parents. The legislation's sponsor, Rep. Roz McGee, D-Salt Lake City, said it provides a "clear pathway" for courts to follow.

Co-sponsor, Rep. Lorie Fowlke, R-Orem, made clear the law does not open the door to large numbers of teens leaving their families.

"This is not about taking children away from their parents. This is about children without parents to care for them, " Fowlke said.

At least in the FLDS communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Ariz., the new law offers hope to hundreds of youth, said Dan Fischer, founder of the Lost Boys Diversity Foundation. There will be, he said, "hundreds of homeless boys and a handful of girls here and there that will benefit from this."

Joe Williams hopes so. The 15-year-old left Colorado City six months ago and now lives with his brother in St. George. "I'm just grateful for this," he said Tuesday. "I hope that many more will take advantage of it."

It has been at least three years since Williams last spoke to his parents. He believes they are living on a compound run by FLDS leader Warren Jeffs somewhere. He had been living with older siblings until he left in September, but said they wrote him off when he declined to adopt the polygamous lifestyle.

"Basically when I lived there they just acted like I didn't exist," Williams said. "I couldn't even talk to my other brothers and sisters, even if I lived in the same house with them."

Originally published Wednesday, May 3, 2006