Utah governor signs mental health, criminal justice reform bills

From increasing mental health resources across the state to promoting education for those in correctional facilities, several bills took effect Tuesday as Gov. Spencer Cox approved them during a ceremonial signing.

SB171 requires the Huntsman Mental Health Institute to develop a youth behavioral health curriculum, while HB13 creates a support special group license plate to support the state's Live On suicide prevention campaign. HB23 increases funding for mental health services for first responders and their families, as well as retired first responders.

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Another bill, HB295, seeks to keep more doctors-in-training in Utah after finishing their residency requirements. The bill creates a grant program to fund more medical residencies across the state. Sponsor Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Provo, said he believes the bill will stop Utah from "exporting" qualified graduates, and increase the ability of rural areas and hospitals to use medical residents.

The bill passed unanimously in both the House and Senate, he noted.

Cox praised lawmakers for passing more than 90% of bills this year unanimously — a rate he said is higher than usual.

HB226 "accentuates and emphasizes" higher education programs at the Utah State Prison, which have traditionally been managed by volunteer educators, said bill sponsor Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara. The bill creates a council that will advise the Board of Higher Education on how education should be offered to inmates.

Snow said it will make a difference by training women and men for careers once they get out of prison, and potentially reduce recidivism.

"This shows the heart and compassion of Utah," Cox said.

Gov. Spencer Cox speaks before the ceremonially signing bills focused on law enforcement and mental health issues at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 12, 2022.
Gov. Spencer Cox speaks before the ceremonially signing bills focused on law enforcement and mental health issues at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. | Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Similarly, HB194 will ensure men and women get equal educational opportunities while incarcerated, said Rep. Melissa Garff Ballard, R-North Salt Lake. Now, men and women receive different options — women can learn secretarial skills or culinary arts while in prison, while men are offered training in skills like welding and mechanics.

Garff Ballard said the bill is a result of years of looking at opportunities to prevent people from circling in and out of the criminal justice system.

Cox also signed several bills aimed at increasing resources for emergency medical service providers and first responders throughout the state.

HB289 provides more medical insurance funding for volunteer emergency medical service workers. Sen. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green, noted that rural areas of the state face challenges managing emergencies due to staff shortages. In Green River, he said, an officer is sometimes required to take care of traffic while triaging accidents at the same time, and the tow truck arrives before the ambulance.

He said he hopes the bill will increase the volunteer rate across the state.

Cox emphasized his pride in the state's emergency medical services, and said he has many friends and families who volunteer. He called it a "tough, thankless job" and said offering more of them insurance should help.

Meanwhile, SB126 sets standards for reporting of officer misconduct. Sponsor Assistant Senate Minority Whip Jani Iwamoto, D-Holladay, called the bill "a long time coming."

"We need to change the culture, and that means that to protect our officers, we need to report when something is wrong," she said, quoting West Jordan Police Chief Ken Wallentine.

Cox noted that Democrats and Republicans working together on the bill and sponsoring the bill shows a willingness to engage in "common sense reform." He and Iwamoto both praised the law enforcement community for their help on the bill.

State Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, front left, speaks before Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, seated, ceremonially sign SB171 and other bills focused on law enforcement and mental health issues at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. SB171 creates a collaboration between the Huntsman Mental Health Institute and the State Board of Education to develop an age-appropriate curriculum for grades K-12 on behavioral health.
State Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, front left, speaks before Gov. Spencer Cox and Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, seated, ceremonially sign SB171 and other bills focused on law enforcement and mental health issues at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. SB171 creates a collaboration between the Huntsman Mental Health Institute and the State Board of Education to develop an age-appropriate curriculum for grades K-12 on behavioral health. | Mengshin Lin, Deseret News

Other bills signed together seek to improve county correctional facilities' reporting of information regarding crimes and treatment programs to the state. HB403 creates a database for that information. Sponsor Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, said the bills will help the state get the data it needs to make decisions about criminal code in the future.

  • HB279 and HB403 together seek to improve county correction facilities' reporting of information regarding crimes and treatment programs to the state. HB403 creates a database for that information. Sponsor Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, said the bills will help the state get the data it needs to make decisions about criminal code in the future.
  • HB138 allows some juveniles charged with crimes as adults to stay in the juvenile system and receive the interventions offered there until they turn 25. Rep. Marsha Judkins, R-Provo, said the bill will help create a "safer society."
  • HB117 allows crime victims to list a fictitious address for their voter registration.
  • HB153 requires those who perform child welfare interviews to ask if the child is comfortable. If the child isn't comfortable, the bill directs interviewers to allow a child to have an adult there to support them.