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Cox holds ceremony to recognize police reform, prison education and mental health bills

Posted at 3:59 PM, Apr 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-12 19:54:08-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Governor Spencer Cox held a ceremonial bill signing event to recognize a series of bipartisan bills that enacted policing reforms and expanded mental health and educational resources in the state.

"These are bills that matter," the governor said of the 13 pieces of legislation that he and Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson signed.

Some of the issues the bills covered overlap. For example, Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, sponsored a bill that greatly expands mental health resources for emergency responders and their families. He told a crowd at the Utah State Capitol on Tuesday that the issue was brought to him by first responders who often encounter traumatic events that impact their mental health and spills over to their families.

"I am so proud that Utah has done this, has recognized the sacrifice that those we traditionally don’t think of and haven’t in the past will now have access to treatment and mental health therapy," Rep. Wilcox said.

Another bill creates a special mental health curriculum in Utah schools. Its sponsor, Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, emphasized the curriculum would be designed in Utah with the goal of preventing future tragedies.

"This is something we are building here in Utah with full transparency, full disclosure," he said. "Everything is online, everything is available to parents, at no cost. It’s available to private schools, church groups. This will be the best mental health curriculum created. It will be done here in Utah. This is the right way."

Sen. Thatcher said the curriculum could ultimately save children's lives.

"This will give them the tools to keep from reaching that crisis point," he said in an interview with FOX 13 News.

Other bills passed by the legislature include increased protections for crime victims, more changes to Utah's juvenile justice system and increased educational opportunities in prisons. Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard, R-North Salt Lake, said her bill expands educational and vocational courses in prisons.

"It requires inmates receive education as soon as possible, not just right before they exit the correctional facilities so they can be on that path of education," she said. "The second thing is it provides parity for men and women."

Rep. Ballard said before the bill, women inmates were only offered courses in secretarial and culinary work. Now, they will be offered the same trainings incarcerated men are including auto repair and construction. While the law doesn't go into effect right away, the Utah Department of Corrections said it is already implementing it.

One major bipartisan bill that was signed came about as a result of some intense negotiations between law enforcement and groups like the NAACP. It requires police officers who witness another officer committing an act of misconduct to intervene.

"This is helping us push forward some great training programs on how to effectively intervene in a situation before it goes south," said West Jordan Police Chief Ken Wallentine. "Before there’s a civil rights violation, before someone’s injured and frankly before someone puts her or his career in jeopardy."

Gov. Cox noted the bill had earned the support of police unions and civil rights groups. The governor called it "common sense" legislation.

"The legislators, both Republican and Democrat, worked together and they worked with the community," said Jeanetta Williams, the president of the Salt Lake branch of the NAACP.

Tuesday's event at the Utah State Capitol was ceremonial, as the governor had already signed them into law. The governor is expected to host other ceremonial events in the coming weeks to call attention to important bills the legislature has passed.