The Utah state legislature closed out its fourth week, officially surpassing the halfway mark of the 45-day session. Lawmakers have officially passed 88 bills, with only one having been signed by Gov. Gary Herbert.
Mental health has been a popular subject within the session, with 14 bills surrounding changes to combat the effects. Some lawmakers are pushing for more access to resources through either increased facilities or more open beds at the Utah State Hospital.
The push for more mental health facilities
A bill that would increase the number of 24-hour mental health facilities among the Wasatch Front passed its committee hearing unanimously and is off the full House for a vote.
The legislation would increase the number of mental health crisis centers around the state, where people can go when they need emergency care. It would act as an alternative option to the emergency room or prison.
The initiative would cost $21 million to fund, and would also provide ambulances to transport those in rural areas to a facility. That way, those experiencing mental health episodes in their homes or on the streets can be transported safely, rather than waiting for police to intervene.
The initiative for more beds in Utah State Hospital
Another bill passed by the House also wants to avoid those with mental health struggles to end up in jail by providing 30 more mental treatment beds at the Utah State Hospital. The bill would cost roughly $3.8 million to fund, which has caused concern for some lawmakers.
The bill would go toward increasing the number of beds available, which the bill sponsor Rep. Steve Eliason said would “free up” the beds in the jails and get people the mental help they need.
It would also require the Utah Substance Use and Mental Health Advisory Council to study the effects of having beds available and then make recommendations to the legislature for future action.
The money would also go toward creating outreach teams that would treat people going through mental health crises on the streets or in their homes.
The bill passed the House vote and has been sent to the Senate. While there is strong political support for the move, some lawmakers are concerned with the cost.
Threatening schools may now be considered a crime
A new bill being proposed would essentially create a new crime: threats against schools. Whether the threat is real or fake, it would be treated and punished as a crime all the same.
If it’s a juvenile making the threat, the crime is reduced and it requires the teenager or child to go through a mental health screening. The proceeding counseling can come through either state or local health department programs.
The bill states that excuses on either the inability to complete the threat or lack of intent of actual threat can’t be used as a defense, and they may still be charged.
Other bills gaining attention this week
Several other bills are making its way through the legislature concerning health care and public safety, among other things.
Lawmaker pushes for task force against violence toward Native American women
Rep. Angela Romero is proposing a bill that focuses on studying violence experienced by Native American women. The legislation is in response to research done by the U.S. Department of Justice.
The research found that American Indian women face a much higher murder rate across the country, coming in at 10 times the national average. The issue is highly reflected in Utah, which ranks eighth in states with the highest number of missing or murdered indigenous women cases.
Romero’s bill would create a task force that would compile research into a report for the Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Interim Committee. The force would include legislators, law enforcement officials, a University of Utah researcher, a tribal representative and a representative from a victim advocate organization in the Utah’s Native American population.
It would also include a Native American woman who has experienced sexual or domestic violence. Romero said this addition is crucial to influence the conversation in the task force.
Update: Insulin prescriptions may see a co-pay cap
The bill proposing a co-pay on insulin medication for those with diabetes has passed its Utah house committee with a unanimous vote. The bill would cap the co-pay at $100 a month.
The sponsor of the bill, Rep. Norm Thurston, said the bill is structured in a way that allows insurance companies to negotiate better prices from insulin manufacturers.
So, co-pays could be as low as $30 per prescription — but, some pharmacies like CVS want to get rid of the insulin co-pay altogether. The bill will let pharmacists fill prescriptions for diabetes-related supplies that will last more than 30 days.
It also gives patients the type of insulin they need at the time they need it, even if there’s been a prescription error. As of right now, some patients have to delay their dosage to wait for a correct refill.
The bill will now head to the full Utah House for a vote.