Utah lawmakers call for focus on teen suicide

By By ANNIE KNOX

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah lawmakers are targeting teen suicide and school bullying.

Under proposed measures, the state would require school officials to notify parents in writing if their children bully others or threaten suicide.

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, said Thursday that she hopes the legislation will curtail an upward trend of teen suicide in Utah.

"What we don't want is to just keep reacting to horrible stories of bullying and suicide," Robles said. "We just want to be proactive."

Rep. Gage Froerer, R-Huntsville, sponsors similar legislation. Under the bills, parents would sign off to acknowledge a bullying incident or suicide threat.

The push follows a handful of high-profile teen suicides in Utah, including the death of a 13-year-old boy who shot himself in front of some of his classmates in Taylorsville in December. David Phan's family members say he was gay and a victim of school bullying.

Utah's suicide rate ranks in the top 20 nationally. It has the 11th-highest rate of suicide among 18- to 24-year-olds, according to the Utah Health Department. And the rate of suicide among Utah residents younger than 17 climbed by a third from 2009 to 2010, the most recent year statistics are available.

Nationally, almost 16 percent of high school students surveyed said they seriously considered suicide during the past year, according to 2011 data from the Center for Disease Control.

In a Thursday hearing, Rep. Daniel McCay, R-Riverton questioned whether it is practical to require parents to go into schools to sign the paperwork.

"We do have a suicide problem here in this state," McCay acknowledged. But, he added, parents who work full time might not have a chance to come in to schools during the school day.

Robles, one of the sponsors, said the measures would empower parents by informing them when children indicate suicidal or threatening behaviors.

"What I can't have is parents telling me, 'I didn't know this was happening,'" she said. "And then a tragic incident takes place, and now we've lost a child."

One of the Utah bills is on its way to the Senate for approval. The other is pending in a House committee.

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Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.

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