Lawmakers Continue To Implement Recommendations From Safe Schools Task Force
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — As news of another school shooting spread Thursday, state lawmakers said they remain committed to improving school safety in Utah and implementing recommendations from a task force set up following the shooting at Florida’s Parkland High School 18 months ago.
“How do you ever know if it’s enough, right? That’s not easy to judge,” said Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, who has sponsored safe schools legislation in the past.
Among the top recommendations in the commission’s report was making well-trained mental health teams quickly available for students at high risk.
State officials responded last summer with funding for more mental health counselors in schools while the state legislature dedicated $30 million specifically towards grants for schools to hire school safety personnel such as counselors, psychologists, or resource officers in its last session.
Ward also sponsored a bill last session that established a new school safety center within the State Office of Education. It included experts in mental health, law enforcement and data analysis that will work with schools on safety improvements.
“I think that we are trying very hard to make schools safer,” said Ward. “I feel confident those are good steps, and that they will make a good improvement. I would never want to say that’s enough, we don’t need to do anything else.”
Rep. Steve Handy, R-Layton, agreed.
“See something, say something. We’ve all got to be on top of this,” he said.
The commission recommended a gun violence restraining order, similar to the “red flag” bill Handy has unsuccessfully sponsored twice. Family members or law enforcement could petition a judge to temporarily take the firearms of an individual threatening to harm himself or others.
“You say firearms removed, and a lot of people get their hackles up,” said Handy. “I’m a gun owner. I’m Second Amendment adherent. But, there has to be something under the law that’s constitutionally protected that would allow a temporary removal.”
Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have such laws.
Thursday’s shooting in Santa Clarita, California, left two dead and Handy said early intervention should be key in the future.
“Something tipped him over the edge,” Handy said. “If we could have intervened possibly, earlier, removed that lethal aspect that he has used, perhaps this could have been averted.”
He said the bill, which is properly called an extreme risk protective order, would be a tool in the toolbox that law-enforcement has endorsed, but lawmakers have denied. He said he’ll sponsor that bill again, hoping to have a good public policy discussion that will lead to a “red flag” law that Utah can support.
“People are kind of so-so about it,” he said. “But, the polls seem to show that the public sentiment is shifting, and when these shootings happen, people say we’ve got to do something.”
That commission report also recommended an emergency alert app, which we now know as the SafeUT app, which has been a tremendous tool.