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Utah lawmakers unveil proposals to bolster school safety, spurred by Uvalde

By Tim Vandenack - | Feb 3, 2023

Photo supplied, Utah House of Representatives

Utah Rep. Ryan WIlcox, an Ogden Republican.

SALT LAKE CITY — School safety is becoming front and center during the 2023 Utah legislative session.

Five lawmakers gathered Thursday, including Rep. Ryan Wilcox, an Ogden Republican, to formally unveil several measures they are proposing to bolster safety in the state’s primary and secondary schools.

“The overall aim is to do our best to raise the standards for school safety across the state,” Wilcox told the Standard-Examiner. Included in the measures is a one-time $25 million allocation in Wilcox’s proposal that schools could tap to help with implementation of the new standards and guidelines.

The collective effort, Wilcox said, has its roots in the May 24, 2022, killing of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Utah lawmakers, Wilcox said, received some 7,000 messages and emails in response to the mass shooting from concerned Utahns, which made them delve into the issue.

Wilcox’s proposal, House Bill 61, would create a security chief position in the Utah Department of Public Safety who would be tasked with overseeing school safety, including creation of new school design standards focused on augmenting safety. “We’re raising the minimum standards,” he said.

His measure also calls for a state School Security Task Force that would focus on the issue, requires public schools to conduct threat assessments, lets school districts use firearm detection software and sets new guidelines governing student resource officers, among other things.

Notably, it would make a one-time $25 million allocation that schools could tap into to help them cover the cost of implementing the measures outlined in the varied measures put forth by the five lawmakers. “This is bigger than just the part I have responsibility over,” Wilcox said.

Wilcox called school security a “top priority” for the 2023 legislative session and said he is “very optimistic” about the measures’ prospects. Several were heard for the first time Thursday in the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee, which Wilcox heads, and H.B. 61 received a 10-0 favorable recommendation with three not voting.

H.B. 140, sponsored by Rep. Dan Johnson, a Cache County Republican, would require monthly drills at schools to prepare students and staff for the possibility of an “active threat” in their facilities. It too passed out of Wilcox’s committee with a 10-0 favorable vote.

Johnson is also planning a proposal aimed at countering absenteeism in Utah schools “by promoting early prevention and support,” according to a press release from the Utah House.

Rep. Karen Peterson, a Clinton Republican, is proposing H.B. 249 to create an online informational portal to aid parents whose kids have been subject to “bullying, cyberbullying or other abusive behavior,” according to the press release.

H.B. 60, sponsored by Rep. Cheryl Acton, a Salt Lake City Republican, amends several provisions related to juvenile justice and creates new guidelines governing disclosure of information on dangerous weapons on school grounds.

Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, a Syracuse Republican, is proposing H.B. 304, related to handling of offenses involving juveniles. It “empowers school resource officers to address illegal conduct on school grounds and make referrals to juvenile courts when appropriate,” said the House statement.

Lisonbee’s measure received a 10-0 favorable recommendation from the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee on Thursday.

Law enforcement officials, school administrators and school security representatives were consulted in crafting of the measures, Wilcox said.


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