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House passes bill to combat youth suicide through parent seminars

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SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would create seminars to train parents on bullying, Internet safety and suicide prevention cleared a major hurdle Monday, passing the Utah House by a 61-11 vote.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steven Eliason, R-Sandy, seeks to combat the high rate of youth suicide in Utah by providing information and training for parents to identify warning signs exhibited by their children.

Suicide is currently the second leading cause of death among Utah's teens, a sobering reality that Eliason described as a "silent epidemic."

"This topic is more than sad, it's worse than tragic, but it's preventable," he said. "This is one small step to help our children who so desperately need our help."

Under the terms of HB298, school districts would be encouraged, but not required, to hold an annual seminar for parents on the topics of substance abuse, Internet safety, bullying and suicide prevention.

The State Office of Education, which has endorsed the bill, would oversee the seminars and report back to the Legislature on the efficacy of the program, as well as prepare and provide a curriculum and resources for school districts.

School districts would also be able to incorporate materials and services provided by community advocacy organizations, Eliason said, which would lesson the financial and logistical burden of holding the seminars.

Several lawmakers stood to speak in support of the bill, including Rep. Edward Redd, R-Logan, who said he's seen firsthand the effects of bullying and suicide in his role as deputy medical examiner for the Cache County coroner.

"I think this is a good step to help parents learn what bullying is and really develop some skills to help their students not participate in it," Redd said.

Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, who last year sponsored legislation aimed at suicide prevention in schools, praised the flexibility in the bill and said the endorsement by the State School Board made voting for the bill an easy decision.

"I'm happy to hear that the educational community is in favor of this," Eric Hutchings said. "It helps make it a no-brainier for me."

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