SALT LAKE CITY — A bill to combat Utah's high suicide rate by establishing statewide coordinators to oversee suicide prevention efforts was advanced Wednesday by the House Education Committee.
The bill is one of several this legislative session that address the issue of suicide — particularly the high rate among Utah's youth — and the second sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy.
HB154 would provide funding to both the State Office of Education and the Department of Human Services to designate suicide prevention coordinators to oversee suicide prevention efforts in school districts and in the state. The bill would also require the State Office of Education to develop model youth suicide prevention programs and resources for school districts and charter schools.
Two points of opposition were raised during the bill's relatively brief committee debate. First, Rep. Jim Nielson, R-Bountiful, questioned whether it was within the constitutional authority of the Legislature to create a position in the State Office of Education.
Second, conservative advocate Cherilyn Eagar spoke against the bill's cost — $250,000 from the general fund — and urged committee members to not vote for bills that constitute wasteful government spending.
"I want to remind our Republican representatives here that we have a responsibility to our constituents," she said. "We can't criticize Washington if we're doing the same thing here in Utah."
Eliason said the State School Board supports the bill, and because the Legislature is charged with funding education, it is within the prerogative of lawmakers to appropriate funds for a new position in the State Office of Education.
To the issue of cost, he said the money needed to fund two positions pales in comparison to the millions of dollars in emergency room costs that result from suicide attempts.
"The value for this is incalculable," Eliason said.