Armed and trained public school employees could volunteer as guardians to respond to emergencies in Utah public schools under legislation passed Wednesday night by the Utah Legislature.

HB84, a 92-page, long-studied school safety measure sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, includes language that would exempt school guardians from personal liability when carrying or storing a firearm if they act in good faith, are not grossly negligent or if the guardian “threatens, draws, or otherwise uses a firearm reasonably believing the action to be necessary.”

In the absence of a school resource officer or security guard, a school employee with a valid concealed carry permit could volunteer as an armed guardian to respond during an emergency such as a school shooting or an armed intruder entering the school.

The bill was amended late Wednesday afternoon giving school districts flexibility to assess their respective personnel, safety and telecommunications equipment needs.

Senate Majority Whip Ann Millner, R-Ogden, said schools would conduct needs assessments in conjunction with public safety personnel. Timelines would be established “to implement all of the elements as appropriate.”

“We have very different schools, whether they’re large or small, they’re rural or urban, and they have very different needs. I think the flexibility has now been built into this bill to allow schools to be able to respond to the different needs that they have, both in terms of thinking about the equipment ... and also for the public safety personnel that can actually really work closely with our schools to build their plans to make sure that we’re keeping our children safe,” Millner said during Senate debate.

Educators also expressed concern that HB84 is an unfunded mandate, she said.

Millner said the Utah Legislature will be appropriating one-time funding for equipment and public safety personnel. Funding recommendations adopted by legislative leaders designated at least $100 million in one-time funding and $2.1 million in ongoing funding for school safety this session.

The latest version of the bill passed the Utah Senate unanimously and was sent to the House of Representatives, which concurred with the changes on a vote of 63-9 late Wednesday, passing the bill.

HB84 establishes minimum safety procedures for schools, such as panic buttons, improved communication systems and required reporting by state employees and others if they become aware of threats to schools.

It also establishes duties of the state security chief and requires them to develop training for school resource officers. It also calls for some reporting from the SafeUT Crisis Line to the state’s intelligence databases, and requires certain school safety data to be included in the state’s annual school disciplinary report.

School guardians would train twice a year inside of the school, and the county sheriff would oversee their duties, Wilcox said during a committee meeting earlier in the session. Guardians would undergo mental health evaluations and de-escalation training. Their training would also include firearms proficiency.

“Guardians are basically force multipliers. An SRO cannot be everywhere at all times. Around the country in some of our rural communities, law enforcement could be 10 or 20 minutes away,” testified Max Schachter, whose teenage son, Alex, died during the siege at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida.

Alex Schachter perished along with 13 other students and three school staff members during the rampage on Feb. 14, 2018. Seventeen others were injured.

Meanwhile, a substituted version of HB119, passed the Utah Senate Wednesday afternoon. It establishes the teacher-protector program, “to incentivize school teachers to responsibly secure or carry a firearm on school grounds by providing reimbursements and liability protection.”

Teacher-protectors would undergo annual training, although existing law allows Utah educators to carry concealed weapons in schools.

During Senate debate on HB119, Sen. Keith Grover, R-Provo, said he carried a concealed weapon to school every day while working as an educator and administrator over three decades.

“I’m convinced that law enforcement and teachers are capable of understanding the harms around them and mitigating any type of liability. Believe it or not, unfortunately, I did have to use that weapon two or three times and it was very much for the benefit of the children who I am there to help but sometimes to protect, and that includes teachers as well. I was not the only one in my school and we knew who each other was, and that was very helpful for our school security and safety,” Grover said.

Sen. Jen Plumb, D-Salt Lake City, who is a pediatric emergency physician, said “as someone who has ... actually taken care of and had the proverbial blood of kids on their hands,” she urged Senate members to carefully consider the ramifications of their votes on HB119, sponsored by Rep. Tim Jimenez, R-Tooele.

“The incidents where I see kids injured are very often accidents” such as a father who accidentally shot his 4-year-old child while he was cleaning his firearm, or children who were shot while playing with guns, she said.

“I just think that the importance of all of the potential safety scenarios being part of our considerations, and all of the potential ‘what ifs’ being addressed. We have just got to make sure every single one of them is addressed anytime that there is a gun around a child and I worry that we’re perhaps not quite there. But as we all decide on votes, I just want you to picture the kiddos that are no longer here because a firearm accident happened and that can as well happen in our schools,” Plumb said.

The bill passed in the Senate on a party line 19-6 vote and achieved final passage in the House late Wednesday by a vote of 53-13.

Under HB119, “teacher-protectors” must have a valid concealed carry permits. The state security chief shall track each teacher who participates in the program by collecting a photograph, name and contact information for each teacher so law enforcement officials know they are acting in a sanctioned capacity in the event of a school shooting.