Bill requiring suicide prevention training for teachers clears Legislature

Published: Wednesday, March 7 2012 11:02 a.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — After weeks of emotional testimony, lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday that would require two hours of suicide prevention training every five years for Utah public school teachers.

During her presentation of the bill Tuesday, Senate sponsor Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said Utah has the second highest rate of youth suicide in the nation. Mayne also cited statistics showing that Utah students rank above the national average in experiencing feelings of depression and hopelessness and attempting suicide.

Under HB501, materials on youth suicide prevention will be developed by the State Board of Education and incorporated into professional development for public education employees. Mayne said there would be little to no cost due to materials already being available from various sources.

"There is a need here," she said. "Teachers need to be prepared and armed."

The bill has seen near-unanimous support during the legislative session. The House education committee voted 10-0 to advance the bill after hearing from Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who spoke of his family's experience with suicide and urged support of the bill.

During debate in the House, Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, related how he was working at the Capitol when he learned that his son had taken his own life.

"I don't even remember leaving the Capitol," Wheatley said. "I got to the University of Utah Hospital, and I arrived too late. My son was already gone."

The House passed the bill 65-4. That vote was backdropped by the death of two Clearfield High students who took their lives just days before.

Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, voiced his support for the bill but questioned how much of a burden the two-hour requirement would place on school districts.

Before a final vote was held on the bill Wednesday, Mayne said professional development is typically 100 hours, emphasizing that two hours every five years for suicide prevention training would not be overly burdensome.

"That seems to be a pretty minimal amount for something that could reap such phenomenal benefits," Urquhart said.

During testimony on the committee level, State Superintendent Larry Shumway said the State Office of Education does not have an official position on the bill but stated his personal support for the measure.

"Some people would say it's one more thing, but it's certainly one of the most important things," Shumway said. "I don't think that two hours every five years creates a burden we can't handle."

The Senate voted 27-1 in favor of the bill. It will now go before Gov. Gary Herbert to be signed into law.

E-mail: benwood@desnews.com

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