SALT LAKE CITY -- Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, is a vote away from becoming the man who opened up fresh veins in Utah.
Handy is sponsoring House Bill 64, which would allow 16-year-olds to donate blood with signed parental consent in order to boost donor numbers and keep up with demand.
Under current law, 17-year-olds are the only minors who can donate.
Handy's bill passed the House by unanimous vote Monday and was approved Thursday by the Senate's Health and Human Services Committee. The bill now goes before the full Senate.
For ARUP Laboratories at the University of Utah, help cannot come soon enough. The Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City is doubling its beds from 50 to 100 this spring.
"The state continues to grow, and because of that, demand for blood has gone up over time," said Lance Bandley, spokesman for ARUP, which supplies blood to three other hospitals as well. "We're just trying to keep up with demand."
The same goes for MountainStar Blood Services. The baby boomers are retiring and may no longer meet health requirements to donate blood, said Steve Hansen, MountainStar recruiter and marketing director.
"We have seen a small dip in donations, but with concerted promotion, we've been able to maintain the levels of supply that we've needed. But it's harder and harder to maintain that," he said.
Collection agencies are looking to the next generation to replace those who are no longer able to donate, Hansen said.
In November, ARUP, American Red Cross Blood Services and MountainStar Blood Services approached Handy with the idea. The American Red Cross estimates that lowering the donor age to 16 in Utah would increase donations 10 to 20 percent among high schoolers.
"Approximately 38 percent of the general population is eligible to donate, but only 8 percent do donate," said Handy, who is on the American Red Cross Board of Directors.
"If we can get younger people from 16 on up to begin to become lifelong blood donors, that's a great thing that they can do."
That is the aim of The American Red Cross, the main organization pushing the bill, said spokesman John Peterson.
Utah would be the 40th state to allow 16-year-olds to donate blood.
High school administrators may be a little concerned that more of their students will be pulled away when blood-collection agencies show up for donations, said Marilyn Peralta, director of MountainStar Blood Services, but she does not imagine they will disagree with the legislation.
"There is no source for human blood except from people," she said. "The more people who understand that, young or old, the better."