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House GOP lawmakers working on legislation to improve safety in schools

Posted at 9:50 PM, Feb 02, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — Republican lawmakers in the Utah House of Representatives are working on legislation to improve and enhance safety in schools across the state.

The legislation is aimed at tackling topics, like the hardening of schools, bullying, truancy, juvenile justice and threat protocol.

Rep. Cheryl Acton (R-West Jordan) spoke about her bill, House Bill 60, which would make schools mandatory reporters on dangerous weapons found at schools.

"Currently that's all handled internally, it's not reported necessarily to law enforcement," said Rep. Acton.

Her counterparts, like Rep. Dan Johnson (R-Logan), are looking to address how schools handle, what he says, the big issues of standard response protocol for active threats in Utah schools.

"My concern is to make sure that that there's a code that requires schools to have these active threat drills and that they do that frequently," said Rep. Johnson.

Other topics these house members are aiming to address include creating a parent portal, under HB 249, which was crafted by Rep. Karen Peterson (R-Clinton). Her bill would help parents with resources if their child feels marginalized or bullied at school.

Rep. Karianne Lisbonee (R-Clearfield), who also serves as the Majority Assistant Whip, says she is working on a bill that doubles as a teacher retention and school resource officer bill. She says through past legislation, their hands have been tied and it has created a safe space for juveniles to commit crimes on school grounds.

Rep. Lisbonee also says another one of her bills, HB 107, would waive all fees for a teacher who wants to get a concealed carry permit.

The creation of a School Security Task Force is something Rep. Ryan Wilcox (R-Ogden) is working on, under House Bill 61.

The bill would set the minimum safety and design standards for schools with appropriate training and resources for teachers, administrators and first responders.

"I'm much more concerned right now about losing a teacher over behavioral issues in a school in a classroom than we are overpaid," said Rep. Wilcox.

It's a bill that Sheri Mattle, the Safety Commissioner for Utah PTA supports. However, she is hoping some amendments are made to it.

"There's only input from law enforcement and they're not they don't have any parental input, nor do they have school boarding put on that task force," said Mattle.

Heather Lamb is a parent of two girls, ages six and four, who attend Mountain Trails Elementary School in Eagle Mountain.

She says she feels her children are safe when she sends them to school.

"There's always there's always room for improvement, but it's just going to be continuous you know month by month, year by year," said Lamb.

Rep. Johnson also brought up school absentee amendments he is working on. He says in 2019, 19% of the students in the state of Utah were chronically absent from school.

He went on to say that in 2021 and 2022 in kindergarten, 36.7% of students were chronically absent.

Rep. Johnson says "chronically absent" is defined as missing 10% or more of the days of school in any given school year. He says addressing high absenteeism would require cooperation between LEAs, the State Board of Education and the Division of Juvenile Justice and Youth Services.

Many of these bills were heard and approved during the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Standing Committee meeting Thursday afternoon.

They will now move on to the full House of Representatives for a vote.