ST. GEORGE — Among the flurry of bills that have been passed during the final days of the 2024 session of the  Utah Legislature are a handful of measures related to school safety.

Sen. Don Ipson (R-St. George) talks about HB 84 shortly before a Senate floor vote, Salt Lake City, Utah, FEb. 28, 2024 | Screenshot image courtesy of Utah Legislature, St. George News

One such bill is HB 84, School Safety Amendments, which covers a wide range of safety initiatives and procedures, including threat reporting, coordination with law enforcement agencies, and the management of school safety incidents, including those involving bullying, cyber-bullying, hazing, abusive conduct or retaliatory behavior. It also requires panic alert devices and video camera access for schools and classrooms.

HB 84 was sponsored Rep. Ryan Wilcox (R-Ogden), with its Senate sponsor being Sen. Don Ipson (R-St. George). The bulk of the funding will come from a one-time appropriation of $100 million allocated to the State Board of Education’s School Safety and Support Grant Program.

During a Senate floor discussion on Wednesday, Sen. Ipson deferred to his colleague Sen. Ann Millner to briefly explain the bill.

“We have very different schools, whether they’re large or small, they’re rural or urban, and they have very different needs,” Millner said. “I think the flexibility has now been built into this bill to to allow schools to be able to respond to the different needs that they have.”

Added Millner: “I think we now have a bill that has the flexibility that we need, is no longer an unfunded mandate, and will allow everyone to proceed with the kind of support and help they need to make sure our children are safe.”

After the fifth and final amended version of the bill passed in the Senate by a unanimous vote of 27-0-2 on Wednesday (Feb. 28), HB 84 went back to the House for another vote, where it passed 63-9-3. It now awaits Gov. Spencer Cox’s signature.

Wilcox and Ipson also teamed up to co-sponsor HB 14, known as School Threat Penalty Amendments, which enhances the legal penalties for making a threat against a school.

The bill makes it a second-degree felony for someone to make a false emergency report (such as a bomb threat) in certain circumstances. It also requires a student to be suspended or expelled from a public school if the student makes a false emergency report targeted at a school.

Emergency vehicles in front of Canyon View Middle School, Cedar City, Utah, Jan. 21, 2024 | File photo by Haven Scott, St. George News / Cedar City News

After passing the House by a vote of 73-1-1 on Jan. 16, HB 14 next went to the Senate for consideration. After making it out of committee, it passed unanimously 22-0-7 on Jan. 31. The final vote of 28-0-1 was later ratified by the Senate President on Tuesday (Feb. 27). It was enrolled the following day in preparation to be sent to the governor for his signature.

Another recently passed bill is HB 119, or School Employee Firearm Possession Amendments. It establishes a program called the Educator-Protector Program to incentivize school teachers to responsibly secure or carry a firearm on school grounds.

HB 119 was sponsored by Rep. Tim Jimenez, with Sen. David Hinkins serving as its Senate sponsor.

Hinkins explained the purpose of the bill on the floor of the Senate on Wednesday (Feb. 28) before it was brought to a vote, noting that it will provide annual classroom response training for teachers by county sheriff’s offices, at no cost to the educators.

Such training, Hinkins noted, would cover topics such as “how to defend a classroom against active threats, emphasizing the teacher’s role in stationary defense and on the safe loading, unloading, storage and carrying of a firearm in a school setting.”

HB 119 passed the Utah House by a vote of 54-13-8 on Feb. 26. The Senate, after making a few changes, then passed it by a vote of 19-6-4 on Feb. 28. It then went back to the House, where the amended version passed, 53-13-9.

Additionally, HB 45 recently passed unanimously in both chambers, extending the SafeUT program and the state’s School Safety Commission for another five years, until Jan. 1, 2030.

The legislative session ends at 11:59 p.m. Friday, March 1.

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2024 Utah Legislature by clicking here.

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