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School safety is the focus of several bills this legislative session

An off-camera person holding up a small toy school bus in front of a stop sign
Jackson Simmer

School safety was a big issue at the state legislature last week, with four bills brought to the House for consideration.

HB 61, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox (R-Weber), would create a State Security Chief within the Department of Public Safety who, similar to the model for a fire marshal, would be responsible for training and design standards for school safety. It would also create a school security task force to work on minimum safety and design standards.

“What we’re attempting to do with this is to set a minimum standard that is easily understood, that is clear to all that are involved and that we can implement across the state,” Wilcox said.

In addition, the bill seeks to have the State Board of Education develop an annual report regarding incidents such as a minor being arrested on school grounds and requires a threat assessment for each school. To get more technology to help with safety without adding stress or distractions, the bill creates grant programs using some of the $25 million budget for schools to implement weapon-detecting technology that can work with existing systems.

Another bill was HB 304, sponsored by Majority Assistant Whip Rep. Karianne Lisonbee (R-Davis), which lets School Resource Officers refer students to a judge for violent and weapons offenses on school grounds and creates reporting and follow-up requirements in cases of weapons brought onto school grounds.

It also adjusts how students with weapons or other violent offenses are reintegrated into schools. Lisonbee referenced the recent Taylorsville High School shooting, where a confrontation between students in the parking led to shots being fired, but no one was injured or killed. She claimed the student arrested for firing the gun had been to court the week before for violent and property damage charges, then was sent back to school without notifying them this had occurred. (This information is not verifiable, as the minor has not been publicly identified.)

“This bill fixes that by requiring the courts and law enforcement to communicate with the school when the minor has been justice-involved for a serious crime,” Lisonbee said.

HB 60 seeks to strike a balance between public safety and not making certain juvenile records follow people for the rest of their lives. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cheryl Acton (R-Salt Lake), makes schools mandatory reporters to law enforcement and school districts when a dangerous weapon is found on school grounds or at a school activity, rather than handling it internally.

The bill also adjusts how expungement of juvenile records work. It allows for the automatic expungement of certain juvenile records that are non-adjudicated — never went before a judge — after the person is 18, so long as they have no adjudicated records or pending charges and they've met the terms of their adjustment.

Those with expunged juvenile records would also be able to answer on job applications as if the event never happened, with a few exceptions. Both of these processes are already in place for other adults with expunged records.

Finally, HB 140, sponsored by Rep. Dan Johnson (R-Cache), makes emergency preparedness and response plans a monthly requirement, and notes that these drills and trainings should be “developmentally appropriate” for different age groups.

All these bills were passed by the House and sent to the Senate for further discussion.

Duck is a general reporter and weekend announcer at UPR, and is studying broadcast journalism and disability studies at USU. They grew up in northern Colorado before moving to Logan in 2018, so the Rocky Mountain life is all they know. Free time is generally spent with their dog, Monty, listening to podcasts, reading or wishing they could be outside more.