Utah governor signs campus safety bill — spurred by U. student’s death — and a handful of other education measures

(Photo courtesy of the University of Utah) Pictured is Lauren McCluskey.

With his signature Friday, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert gave final approval to a bill that looks to improve the response of campus police on cases of sexual assault and relationship violence.

The measure was spurred by the shooting death of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey, who was killed outside her dorm last fall by a man she briefly dated. It focuses on training school officers to recognize the warning signs that experts say were missed in her case. And it requires the state’s public colleges to develop detailed safety plans letting students know who to contact in an emergency.

The legislation’s sponsor, Sen. Jani Iwamoto, has said she hopes it will “help with a cultural shift.”

McCluskey, a 21-year-old track athlete, was killed Oct. 22 by Melvin S. Rowland, a registered sex offender who lied to her about his name and age and later died by suicide. The two had broken up a few weeks earlier, and McCluskey had called campus police several times to report she was being harassed and extorted.

Officers did not prioritize her concerns. In fact, according to a later review of the university’s response, the school’s police never recognized the potential for escalating interpersonal violence.

McCluskey’s parents have supported the measure and have asked for Herbert to sign it. Matt McCluskey testified at a hearing that “this bill is, in some sense, written in blood.”

“Remember Lauren Jennifer McCluskey,” he said. “Remember how she lived. Remember how she died. And through your actions, honor her memory.”

The University of Utah has previously said the legislation “ties in nicely with what we’re trying to do” to improve with other fixes including hiring more officers and a victim advocate.

On Thursday, the governor also signed a number of other big education bills:

• HB120 that requires teachers to take more lockdown trainings and fund two new state positions to focus on security in schools.

• HB227 that asks all schools to offer at least one elective course in computer science by 2022.

• HB260 that creates a new state-funded scholarship based on financial need.

• HB373 that helps K-12 schools to hire more therapists.

• SB245 that requires districts and boards of the lowest-performing schools to inform their communities at least 120 days before a decision is made to shutter or change boundaries.