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Utah school safety bill wins committee OK after threat-assessment teams dropped

By Marjorie Cortez, KSL | Posted - Mar. 7, 2019 at 11:02 a.m.

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SALT LAKE CITY — HB120, the fifth version of a school safety bill, moved out of the Senate Education Committee on unanimous vote Thursday morning after the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ray Ward, R-Bountiful, removed language calling for school-level threat assessments.

Earlier this week, the bill stalled on a tie vote by the committee over concerns that students could be profiled by threat-assessment teams and that the bill established unfunded mandates.

The remaining language is primarily focused on establishing a state safety and support team in the office of the State School Board that includes a law enforcement officer and a representative of the state Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.

It also directs the State School Board to develop a "secure digital tool for the purpose of providing resources and protocols for school safety," the bill states.

"This needs be implemented first before we try and really have strong opinions about bossing schools around about what they have to do. As the state office is putting this in place, we'll work this year to find language that instead of just telling the schools you have to this, this exact way, I think we need to find language to makes sure it works with what schools already doing," Ward said after the committee vote.

The legislation was developed in the aftermath of the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting that killed 17 people. In the succeeding months, an ad hoc commission and State School Board task force were formed to study the issue and develop recommendations. Student demonstrations, school walkouts and marches were held across the country and in Utah.

Even in that backdrop of urgency, developing a consensus bill has been a heavy lift, Ward said.

"There are many, many constituencies that come in and have opinions and try to pull it in different directions. There was no way ever it was going to be simple. But all of those groups have been heard and I think this was a good policy change," he said.

The latest bill was supported by law enforcement, the governor's office and various education constituencies.

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