Utah Gov. Spencer Cox signs bills on suicide crisis line, revenge porn

The governor has signed a total of 87 bills so far from the 2021 legislative session.

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Gov. Spencer Cox provides updates on the ongoing pandemic as he speaks at a news conference in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 11, 2021.

Gov. Spencer Cox has signed a proposal that puts Utah at the forefront of supporting a new suicide prevention hotline, along with bills on police training and closing a loophole in the state’s revenge porn law.

The legislation on a crisis line sets aside millions of dollars to hire clinical social workers and other staff to support the 988 line — a national initiative to help people dealing with a mental health crisis connect with assistance. Supporters of the effort to roll out the hotline by July 2022 hope that calling this three-digit number during a mental health crisis will eventually become as second nature as calling 911 for other types of emergencies.

The bill, SB155, also directs a state commission to prepare for the hotline by evaluating staffing levels, potential call volumes and technological needs.

With 57 additional bills signed Thursday, the state’s new governor has now endorsed a total of 87 measures from this year’s legislative session, which wrapped up last week. Cox will have until March 25 to sign or veto bills.

The package of newly signed bills also includes HB147, a revenge porn bill sponsored after a University of Utah police officer showed his co-workers explicit photos of Lauren McCluskey, the student athlete who was murdered in 2018 by a man she briefly dated.

McCluskey had shared the photos with law enforcement as evidence in an extortion case, and an investigation from the Utah Department of Public Safety confirmed that the officer displayed the pictures without a work-related purpose.

Prosecutors in the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office considered charging officer, Miguel Deras, under the state’s “revenge porn” law. But they said they ultimately were unable to do so because the state’s law required proof the person in the image was directly harmed — and McCluskey’s death made that impossible.

HB147 tried to close that loophole by saying that proving direct harm wouldn’t be necessary if a victim had provided an “intimate image” to police as evidence; the photo was circulated without a legitimate investigative purpose; and the victim had died or become incapacitated.

Other bills signed Thursday were:

HCR13, a resolution that directs state parks and recreation officials to take a look at the “advantages and challenges” of designating Provo Canyon’s Bridal Veil Falls as a state monument or state park;

HB173, a bill that instructs county clerks to publish estimates of the total number of ballots that remain uncounted as they update vote tallies in the days following an election; and

HB162, legislation that requires annual law enforcement training to include instruction on mental health and crisis intervention and de-escalation tactics.