SALT LAKE CITY — In a display of bipartisan support, 46 representatives — both Republicans and Democrats — have joined as co-sponsors of a bill that requires parental notification of suicide threats, bullying and harassment at schools.
A substitute version of HB134, listing the House co-sponsors and specifying that parent notification records classify as private under the Government Records Access Management Act, was adopted Tuesday by the Senate and granted a third reading after a 27-1 vote. A version of the bill has already passed the House of Representatives.
HB134, sponsored by Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, would require schools to notify parents if a student expresses a suicidal threat or is involved in an incident of bullying, cyberbullying, harassment, hazing or retaliation. It would also require schools to obtain a statement from the student's parents acknowledging that they were notified of the school's concerns.
The bill, like others currently being debated by lawmakers, seeks to address Utah's youth suicide rate, which is among the highest in the nation and is currently the second-leading cause of death for Utah's teenagers.
"We need to have a school employee drop whatever they're doing and run to that family and say, 'This is serious,'" said Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City. "This would remind our school districts and our teachers and this community that we do have this obligation."
The lone vote in opposition was cast by Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Orem, who expressed concerns about the potential confusion of liability involving schools in the incident of a student's death since the language of the bill does not address or clarify that issue.
Dayton also questioned whether the bill would place new expectations of emotional and mental health care on school officials without the resources to adequately provide those services.
"I'm not sure that this is the best way we have to deal with it," she said.
The bill will be read for a third time in the Senate and will need to be returned to the House for concurrence prior to final passage.
The Senate also passed HB154, which directs the State Office of Education and Department of Human Services to designate suicide prevention coordinators to implement and oversee suicide prevention programs in schools an and in the state as a whole.
An amendment to HB154 was adopted in the Senate, decreasing the fiscal note attached the bill, which will require consideration and approval by the House prior to final passage.
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company