SALT LAKE CITY -- A small kerfuffle is brewing between a state senator and the city of Provo over legislation that would force the largest city in Utah County to scrap its customer service telephone line.
On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee approved Sen. Daniel Thatcher's, R-West Valley City, proposal, S.B. 232, to turn the 311 telephone number into a statewide teen safety hotline. Thatcher told the committee that the phone line would be staffed by licensed clinical social workers that would be able to help teens work through issues such as contemplating suicide and said the three digit number was key as it would be easy for them to recall in an emergency situation.
"Right now the most vulnerable population that we have are our children," Thatcher said. "I foresee this as being not a one-stop-shop but a place to get children out of crisis."
The problem is Provo City already utilizes 311 for its one-stop-shop customer service line. If Provo residents want to pay a utility bill or find out about youth soccer programs all they need to do is dial 311 and an operator that works for Provo will point them in the right direction.
Provo Deputy Mayor Corey Norman spoke against the bill in its current form to the committee. Norman said the city was not against providing this resource to Utah's students, but explained to the committee that Provo has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, an estimated $300,000, in branding its 311 phone line.
"This causes us a little bit of heartache," Norman said.
Norman said he has asked Thatcher for data that shows the phone line will be successful and also asked the senator to include money in the bill to help Provo rebrand a new customer service line. Norman said he'd like to see Thatcher put the bill on the shelf for a year to see if he and the city can work something out.
Provo wasn't the only government entity that expressed concerns over the legislation. Representatives from Salt Lake County told the committee that it was looking to create a similar line to Provo's using the 311 numbers.
"We are very supportive of the concept of a dedicated hotline for youth who are in distress," said Jeremy Keele, government relations director for Salt Lake County. "We just think this is the wrong number to use."
Debate on the bill was cut short as the committee was rushed for time to discuss two additional bills before adjourning for the day. Lawmakers on the committee appeared to have reservations about the legislation which indicated the bill is no lock to pass on the Senate floor but were willing to let it out of committee.
The FCC controls the regulations on which three digit numbers can be used for government services. The numbers that have been made available include 211, which is already in use by the state of Utah, 311 and 911. The 311 number has traditionally been used by cities across the nation in a similar fashion to Provo's use.
Colorado has a similar statewide tip line for students. According to representatives with the Utah Attorney General's office, the Colorado line receives about 2,000 calls per month.