SALT LAKE CITY — From school breakfast, free speech on college campuses and vaping at school, lawmakers plowed through a bevy of education-related bills Thursday, the final day of the 2020 legislative session.
The Utah House of Representative gave final passage to HB222, which will expand alternative school breakfast programs in Utah schools with certain percentages of students who qualify for free and reduced-price school lunch. Alternative breakfasts can include breakfast in the classroom and grab-and-go carts.
The thrice-substituted bill took a circuitous route to passage after it was defeated by the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Committee, a group Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said was unaccustomed to dealing with education-related legislation.
The bill was amended to address committee members’ concerns, passed unanimously by the committee and then easily cleared both legislative houses.
“With the state superintendent’s help and the committee’s help, this bill was made better,” said Hillyard, who carried the legislation in the Senate. It passed by a vote of 25-1.
The Start Smart breakfast program is federally funded, but lawmakers wanted a provision that said if federal funding for the program is lost, the program would be eliminated.
“As I always say, ‘If you live by the federal dollar, you die by the federal dollar,’” said Hillyard.
Advocates say federal support for child nutrition programs is rarely at risk because a vast amount of research has determined good nutrition supports student learning.
Other bills were rejected by lawmakers, including SB198, which would have required large school districts that hire substitute teachers from temporary employment agencies to ensure they are trained on the school’s code of conduct.
SB198, sponsored by Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, was intended to prevent substitute teachers behaving inappropriately in the classroom. Last fall, a substitute teacher hired by Alpine School District through an employment agency berated a child who expressed gratitude for his two dads. The teacher was fired.
In House debate, where the bill was defeated on a 21-49 vote, some lawmakers said any training requirement should be left to the school districts. Others argued that adding any more requirements would make it even harder to fill substitute teacher positions.
Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, countered that the point of the legislation was to make schools safer for children.
HB132, sponsored by Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, was defeated by the Senate on a vote of 9-16. The bill, which passed by eight votes in the House, sought to prohibit colleges from punishing speech that does not constitute discriminatory harassment and establish other provisions.
Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, said the bill was amended in committee to remove portions opposed by the Utah State Board of Regents.
“What’s left of this bill draws a line between discriminatory harassment and speech that is constitutionally protected,” said Weiler. It included the Supreme Court standard in the case Davis v. Monroe Board of Education that said schools are liable for failing to stop student-on-student sexual harassment under certain circumstances.
Meanwhile, lawmakers gave unanimous support to legislation intended to support schools and intervene with students as they address skyrocketing rates of youth vaping.
The House voted 66-0 for final passage of HB58, sponsored Rep. Susan Pulsipher, R-South Jordan.
The bill requires local school boards to adopt discipline policies to address possession and use of electronic cigarette products on school grounds.
The bill authorizes school officials to destroy confiscated electronic vaping devices but allows them to be turned over to law enforcement if there is reasonable suspicion a device contains an illegal substance.
In Senate debate, Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, said he worries that school discipline policies may be too heavy-handed over what are youthful mistakes and the issue should be addressed within families.
Others like Sen. Deidre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, said the bill was much needed because Utah schools have confiscated vaping devices from children as young as 8 years old.
“This bill is really necessary to solve this problem,” she said.
Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, said the bill also includes requirements intended to help students such as creating a school-based prevention program and a requirement that schools create a plan to address the causes of student use of tobacco, alcohol, electronic cigarette products and controlled substances.
A bill that would create a crime of threats against schools reached final passage in the Utah Senate late Thursday by a vote of 25-0.
HB171, sponsored by Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy, provides that a threat against a school can be real or a hoax and carries misdemeanor penalties. It also authorizes judges to seek restitution for losses and expenses incurred responding to the threat.
If the perpetrator of the threat is a minor, the case can be referred to juvenile court or addressed through school-based interventions.
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