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SALT LAKE CITY — Last year was the worst year on record for school gun violence in the United States. In 2018, 114 people were killed or injured in a school shooting.
In response to the Parkland shooting, the Utah School Safety Advisory Committee was formed to try to figure out solutions to school safety. In 2019, the discussion on school safety continues.
Two bills, HB120 sponsored by Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, and HB17 sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, have been introduced in efforts to make schools safer. The first, HB120, Student and School Safety Assessment,” requests appropriations to be put into school safety.
Appropriations include $66 million as a one-time request for items such as building changes, software and a database to track incidents.
“Over the last four or five years, the legislature has passed several bills that relate to bullying, and there’s different places in our state law that require students to report different things. But they are being reported intermittently or not at all," Ward told KSL.com.
The Utah State Board of Education supports HB120 and the work done by the Utah School Safety Advisory Committee.
“House Bill 120 will help us work toward creating physical and emotional safe school environments for all students through structural and technological improvements and emotional/behavioral supports,” the board said in a written statement.
Another bill that could tackle student safety from a different angle would include one aimed at reducing suicides.
“When we think about school safety, if you look at the numbers at how students die, we have not yet had a student who has been murdered at school,” Ward said. “I’m not saying that won’t happen, but what we had is 40 to 45 students who killed themselves.
"If we were just thinking of how we can reduce student deaths then we have to include suicide in the conversation.”
According to the Utah Department of Health, firearms were the most popular method of suicide. Between 2012 and 2014, about half of all youth suicides were with a firearm, according to the department. A more recent report shows that about half of all suicides in the state occured through the use of a firearm.
HB17, “Firearm Violence and Suicide Prevention,” addresses suicide by requiring the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health to implement and manage a firearm safety program and suicide prevention course. It will also provide information on recognizing suicidal behaviors, share resources on crisis intervention and provide a free firearm safety and suicide prevention packet to school districts, health professionals and parents. The bill also requires a state suicide prevention coordinator to manage the firearm safety program and deliver resources and training.
Eliason, the bill sponsor, did not respond to KSL.com's requests for comment.
The Utah State Board of Education has not taken a position on HB17 but stated, “should the bill pass, we would be eager to review the safety courses and brochures for potential use within our schools.”
Both bills are still being discussed in the legislature. Follow them and other bills on the Utah State Legislature website.