SALT LAKE CITY — Paris Hilton applauded as Governor Spencer Cox held a ceremonial bill signing for legislation that regulates Utah's so-called "troubled teen" industry.
"This is one of the things I’m most proud of in my life," she told FOX 13 after Senate Bill 127 was signed at Tuesday's ceremony.
Hilton, who gained fame as a model, singer, hotel heiress and reality TV star, has been pushing the bill that puts more oversight of facilities that charge families thousands of dollars to treat children for substance and behavioral issues. She said that as a teenager, she was placed in one such facility in Provo and subjected to a series of abuses including a solitary confinement.
"Now people are going to be held accountable," she said. "They’re going to be watched. Everything that was happening to me when I was a teenager would be illegal today."
SB127 allows Utah's Department of Human Services to conduct surprise inspections of facilities. There will be a formal complaint process for children in them to go to the state to report abuses. Any time someone in the facilities places a child in isolation or uses a chemical restraint, it must be reported to the state within 24 hours.
"Some of the isolation in the future, they just can’t do. Some of the chemical restraining, they just can’t do," said Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, who sponsored the bill.
Some facilities actually backed the reforms pushed through the Utah State Legislature, while others were conspicuously silent. Sen. McKell said he would be watching to see if the reforms stick in future legislatures.
Caroline Lorson with the group "Breaking Code Silence," which has been pushing for regulation, said other states are considering similar bills to what Utah is doing.
"This has been a problem for many decades, so we know it’s something that’s not going to go away overnight," she said Tuesday.
Utah's Department of Human Services told FOX 13 that there are about 200 facilities that will now be subject to oversight and regulation when SB127 goes into effect in May. The agency will be hiring more investigators to conduct inspections.
But Hilton acknowledged to FOX 13 that the people who abused her would likely not be held accountable. The facility she attended has changed ownership.
"Going through that was the most horrible experience in my life," she said. "But I feel that maybe everything happens for a reason ,and maybe that needed to happen for me to use my voice to make sure it won’t happen to another child again."