One bill passes, one bill fails Utah Legislature to address suicide in the state

Two bills were recommended for passage to the Utah State Legislature by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s suicide task force, but only one made it through. The Utah House soundly rejected the other.

The bill that passed, HB 370, expands the scope of suicide prevention programs in schools, increases funding for school-based suicide prevention programs, created grants to run the School Safety and Crisis Line, and generated funds for different suicide initiatives, including expansion of an existing mobile app. The bill is on the governor’s desk at press time.

House Bill 87, which would have required Utah doctors to regularly attend suicide prevention training to spot vulnerable patients and refer them for help, failed. The bill struggled to get through committee and only did so after a rewrite. The bill failed, however, on the House Floor in a bipartisan vote. Only Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, spoke against the bill, saying he had “deep reservations” about foisting more requirements on professionals of any kind.

“I believe that if professionals don’t have the skills, they should go out and get them,” said Kennedy, a doctor.

Herbert formed the 14-member suicide task force in late January, which was relatively late in the game to create new legislation for this year’s session.

The task force and related legislation are a response to Utah’s fast-climbing suicide rate, which as of 2016 ranked fifth-highest in the country by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State officials are especially worried about rates of youth suicide, which have recently grown four times faster than the national average.

Equality Utah Executive Director Troy Williams sits on the board.

The Utah Department of Health announced last month that it would ask students their sexual orientation in its annual survey of youth risk behaviors, a move lauded by Williams, who said gathering data on students’ sexual orientation would help in determining at-risk youth and getting appropriate services to them.

“In other words, school administrators can use this data to decide what resources would best help their LGBTQ students,” Williams said. “It’s a classic case of using data for good.”

The state health department regularly conducts an anonymous student risk survey among junior high and high school youth on subjects like substance abuse and suicide. Up until 2015, the state refused to ask a student’s sexual orientation. In 2016, the state started to ask the question, but Equality Utah said the Davis School District and Cache School District refused to administer the youth risk survey.

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