Utah legislative session to cover gun locks, domestic violence, suicide prevention

The Utah State Capitol Building in Salt Lake City, Utah, is home to one of the more conservative state legislatures in the country. (Porter Chelson)

A wide array of bills are slated for hearing in Utah’s 2019 legislative session, which will begin Jan. 28 and end March 14. With a record number of female legislators on Capitol Hill and issues from distracted driving to guns and mental health to domestic violence, the 2019 session holds potential to change numerous Utah laws.

Below are four hot-topic bills to watch for during the upcoming 2019 session.

Gun locks and suicide prevention

The Utah Department of Human Services reported in November 2018 that rifles and shotguns account for 62 percent of rural youth firearm suicides in Utah, the state with the fifth-highest suicide rate in the U.S.

HB17, Firearm Violence and Suicide Prevention, would require the Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health, in consultation with the Bureau of Criminal Identification, to manage a firearm safety program and suicide prevention education course.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, said HB17 would seek to prevent rural youth suicides by requiring long guns, such as rifles and shotguns, to be sold with cable-style trigger locks. 

HB17 would produce a firearm safety brochure and packet and allow Utah residents who file applications for concealed firearm permits to receive redeemable coupons for a gun safe. The legislation would also provide support and assistance to suicide prevention education courses in public schools, community organizations and treatment centers.

“The bill is an approach to educate the public and give them better options to store their firearms,” Eliason said. 

To learn more about youth gun-related suicides, visit the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition’s campaign against youth gun suicides in Utah.

Distracted driving

Hundreds of drivers are killed and injured on Utah roads every year because of distracted driving. While previous legislation has banned texting and driving, HB13, Distracted Driver Amendments, would make holding a phone while driving a primary offense for which people may be pulled over and cited.

Rep. Carol Moss, D-Salt Lake City, the bill’s sponsor, said HB13 could reduce the number of accidents that occur because of distracted driving.

“Everyone has a story about almost being hit or know someone injured or killed by someone who was distracted by their phone,” Moss said. “People need to have both eyes on the road and both hands on the wheel to stay safe, especially on the freeway.”

Communicating through wireless hands-free devices would still be allowed under the bill’s provisions. Use of a handheld device would be allowed during a medical emergency, reporting a safety hazard or criminal activity, or while parked on a roadway.

A 2018 poll commissioned by The Salt Lake Tribune and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics showed a 75-23 margin of Utahns that reported they would support legislation banning the use of hand-held cellphones while driving.

Mental health procedures

According to the Utah Department of Health, Utah consistently has higher percentages of mental illness than the nationwide average. SB38, Mental Health Amendments, is an upcoming senate bill that will be discussed in the Senate Health and Human Services Interim Committee.

The bill’s text includes amendments that would allow mental health professionals to look into prospective patients’ backgrounds to familiarize themselves with the individuals’ mental health history. It also requires said professionals to be transparent with prospective patients about looking into their health history.

SB38 would also streamline the definition of “unprofessional conduct” in the mental health context as using the services of a licensed professional in any manner not outlined in the law.

The bill will be sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan.

To learn more about mental health services in Utah visit Hope4Utah.com.

Domestic violence

Anything relating to domestic violence in Utah is a hot topic on the House and Senate floors, and SB45, Domestic Violence Revisions, is no exception.

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, the bill’s sponsor, expressed the importance of domestic violence legislation in Utah.

“Domestic violence often escalates into beatings and too often death of one of the partners, usually the woman,” Christensen said.

Previous versions of the bill included a long list of offenses considered to be domestic violence. SB45 would add aggravated animal cruelty to the list as a domestic violence offense.

“The current law for domestic violence is quiet on animal abuse,” Christensen said. “If a person tortures their partner’s animal, usually as a way of hurting that partner, there is no repercussion in the domestic violence law. This would make it part of the domestic violence code.”

The bill would also include minor technical changes and define words related to domestic violence.

Christensen urged Utah residents to become involved in the 2019 Legislative Session.

Many of the laws we pass at the legislature are going to affect citizens directly,” Christensen said.

View a full list of Bills and Resolutions for the 2019 general session here.

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