Bill to assess school earthquake risk advances
School districts would have to assess the earthquake safety of their older schools when they bond to build new ones if a bill that advanced Wednesday becomes law.
The House Political Subdivisions Committee voted 8-1 to advance HB414, which would require school districts that pass general obligation bonds after May 8 of this year to use some of that money to conduct seismic safety evaluations of schools built before 1975. They would then have to provide those evaluations to the Utah Seismic Safety Commission.
"I just think if they're going to use the taxpayers' money we need to look backwards at exactly what safety we have in our existing public school buildings for these kids before we spend money on new schools," said bill sponsor Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville.
The commission released a report last year that said 77 of 128 Utah school buildings sampled didn't appear to meet federal guidelines for seismic safety.
For several years, the commission asked lawmakers to pass a measure to evaluate seismic safety of all school buildings. But lawmakers and state education officials have said in the past they were wary of compiling a list of seismically unfit schools because of the potential liability and high cost of retrofitting them.
HB414 contains no requirement that schools address seismically unsafe schools, only that they evaluate whether they're safe.
Rep. Larry Wiley, D-West Valley City, who has run bills in the past aimed at addressing the issue, spoke in favor of the bill, saying: "I think this is one of those steps that gets us to where we need to be. It's not nearly enough, but it's a start."
The bill now goes to the House floor.