Bill calling for comprehensive study of safety on Utah campuses advances in the Legislature

(Jeremy Harmon | Tribune file photo) Hundreds of students gather at the University of Utah during a vigil for Lauren McCluskey on Oct 24, 2018.

Legislation to improve how Utah universities respond to sexual assault and to strengthen coordination between on-campus and off-campus law enforcement breezed through a Senate committee Tuesday.

Sen. Jani Iwamoto said her campus safety bill grew out of a proposal she passed last year after the shooting death of University of Utah student Lauren McCluskey, who was killed near her dorm by a man she briefly dated. This year’s legislation, SB80, would instruct the Utah State Board of Regents to study a variety of issues related to on-campus safety and law enforcement, Iwamoto explained to the Senate Education Committee.

“Public universities, they’re like cities now,” the Salt Lake City Democrat said. “So No. 1 is public safety.”

The Board of Regent’s study would examine issues including:

  • Hiring and training policies for campus police officers.

  • How campus police officers respond to reports of sexual violence.

  • Training for faculty, staff and students on campus safety and sexual violence.

  • The division of responsibilities between campus police and local law enforcement agencies.

  • How an institution informs students and staff of an on-campus crime or emergency.

  • National best practices for promoting on-campus safety.

Spencer Jenkins, chief of staff to the Board of Regents, testified that the legislation will create the opportunity for a “deep dive” into law enforcement and campus safety. Jennifer Oxborrow, executive director of the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, also spoke in favor of the bill, saying it could enhance the teamwork of providers, officials and police.

“The opportunity to study this ... so that we can improve our response, make sure that we’re responding in a timely, concerted, evidence-based way is really, really valuable to us,” Oxborrow said.

Iwamoto’s bill last year focused on training school officers to recognize the warning signs that experts said were missed in McCluskey’s case. It also required the state’s public colleges to develop detailed safety plans letting students know whom to contact in an emergency.

Her current legislation passed with a single dissenting vote in committee and will head to the full Senate for consideration.