Utah Special Legislative Session Not Considering School Safety Bills

Jul 18, 2018, 7:30 PM | Updated: 9:26 pm

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah State Legislature held a special session focused on taxes and the Inland Port, but they did not look at any bills dealing with one of our state’s and our nation’s most pressing issues: school safety amidst continued gun violence.

The Utah Safe Schools Commission announced numerous recommendations a month ago to make our schools safer from gun violence. School starts in just a month, and lawmakers have not taken action on any of those recommendations.

“This is an important issue because people want to have their kids come home at the end of the day,” said Isaac Reese.

The Brighton High School graduate was one of two students on the Safe Schools Commission.

He said Utahns want legislators to act now on recommendations to make schools safer from gun violence.

“They need to look at is how their constituents feel about this issue, and for a majority of Utah this is one of the top issues in this election cycle,” said Reese.

He said the urgency for action following each school shooting dwindles too quickly.

“It just feels kind of ridiculous that we have to keep coming back to the table. What should we do? Then not take action,” he said.

Reese wanted action on universal background checks, one of the recommendations from the commission.

“Not only will that help protect students, that will protect the general public in any public space,” Reese said.

The governor is responsible for calling a special session, but his office told KSL he won’t call a session on school safety measures until there is consensus among legislators on specific legislation.

“When you have that Parkland, Florida shooting there is urgency, urgency, urgency. Then we get distracted and we don’t think about it anymore,” said Rep. Steve Handy (R-Layton, Clearfield). “But, these things are going to continue to happen.”

Handy was disappointed in the lack of urgency. He had a so called “red flag bill,” an extreme risk protection order bill ready to go at the end of last session. That measure would give law enforcement greater latitude to take guns from a person making threats against a school, or the public.

It was recommended by the commission, but nothing has happened.

“That was taken to the Governor’s Office, discussed with legislative leadership, and then since then, I don’t know whether it’s summer, or what,” said Handy. “I was hoping that we would be able to move something forward.”

Recommendations from the commission included ideas that could be implemented quickly and could be considered at a special session. For example, quick availability of well-trained mental health teams for students at high risk.

“It doesn’t seem like there’s a sense of urgency since last month when that report came out,” said Rep. Elizabeth Weight (D-West Valley City).

Weight said some bills dealing with school safety recommendations were moving through committees. She presented a bill in an interim committee Wednesday focused on safe gun storage to reduce accessibility to guns in homes.

She says it takes time to put a bill together and that’s part of the reality, but also noted a lack of urgency.

“Utah has a considerable degree of reluctancy to face the hard issues around school safety from guns,” she said.

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Utah Special Legislative Session Not Considering School Safety Bills