Utah lawmakers must unite, address teen suicides

Tuesday , January 23, 2018 - 4:30 AM


As lawmakers gathered Monday in Salt Lake City for the start of the 2018 Legislature, House Speaker Greg Hughes vowed to hold drugmakers accountable for their role in the nation’s opioid crisis.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, meanwhile, said the biggest problem Utah faces — “by far” — is a shortfall in transportation funding, caused by a drop in gasoline tax revenue.

Hughes and Niederhauser set the agenda for what happens in the Statehouse between now and March 8. Imagine what might’ve been possible if they had united behind Gov. Gary Herbert’s attempt to reduce teen suicides.

  • RELATED: “Task force including Mormon leader to address teen suicides”

State health officials reported Wednesday, Jan. 17, that 44 Utahns between the ages of 10 and 17 took their own lives in 2017, matching the record set in 2015. During the same news conference, Herbert announced the creation of a task force addressing teen suicide.

The panel consists of health professionals, civic leaders and elected officials. But it also includes a religious leader, Ronald A. Rasband, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Troy Williams, executive director or Equality Utah.

Without Rasband and Williams the task force cannot succeed. As many as two-thirds of Utahns belong to the LDS Church, which opposes same-sex relationships, yet we do not understand the role sexual orientation plays in teen suicides. Rasband said the church is “as anxious as anybody” to understand the issue and save lives.

  • RELATED: “Better data, more inclusive culture could help reduce youth suicides in Utah”

To do that, investigators need more information. With Rasband and Williams pursuing it together, now we can begin to assemble it.

Herbert assigned Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Rep. Steve Eliason, a Sandy Republican, to lead the task force. He asked for a report by Feb. 15, so he could share it with the Legislature.

“I’m smart enough to know that no one single issue, one single solution will in fact prevent all suicides, but I do believe that a more concentrated, coordinated approach by all of us working together can in fact reduce incidents of teen suicides,” Herbert said.

If the task force meets its deadline, that gives lawmakers just three weeks to draft and approve bills based on the panel’s recommendations. That’s not much time.

Imagine what would’ve been possible if the House, the Senate and the governor all made it their priority.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.