New regulations and oversight are coming to Utah’s residential youth treatment centers in Utah after Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill on Monday that, among other things, prohibits “cruel, severe, unusual, or unnecessary practice on a child” and requires facilities to develop suicide prevention policies.
S.B. 127, sponsored by Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, is one of 56 bills passed during the Utah State Legislature’s general session that Cox signed at the Governor’s Rural Office in Cedar City.
The bill, which passed unanimously in the Senate and 70-2 in the House, was inspired by the stories of former students who say they were physically, verbally and emotionally abused at various facilities throughout the state.
Most prominently, Paris Hilton testified before the Utah Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee in February about her experience at Provo Canyon School in the 1990s, where she alleges she was “forced to consume medication that made me feel numb and exhausted” and didn’t breathe fresh air for 11 months.
“I cried myself to sleep every single night praying I would wake up from this nightmare,” said Hilton, who organized a protest in Utah County to close the school in October 2020. “The staff there were evil and sadistic, and seemed to enjoy their power and being able to abuse children.”
The legislation prohibits or limits peer restraints, strip and body cavity searches, abuse, neglect, repeated physical exercises and requiring a child “to take an uncomfortable position,” as well as “discipline or punishment that is intended to frighten or humiliate.”
Additionally, the bill allocates $680,400 for the Utah Department of Human Services’ Office of Licensing to hire eight full-time licensors to conduct four inspections per year and “enforce new regulations on youth congregate care programs, as well as enforce new non-discrimination regulations for all human services programs,” according to the fiscal note of the bill.
After Cox signed the bill, McKell wrote on Facebook that he is “extremely proud of the work we did this legislative session to provide greater oversight of the trouble(d) teen industry Utah.”
Other bills signed by the governor on Monday include a bill sponsored by Rep. Cory Maloy, R-Lehi that establishes a regulatory sandbox where businesses face little to no regulations from the state but are still subject to regulations for public and consumer safety, as well as a series of tax amendment bills sponsored by Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo.
Additionally, Cox signed Republican Lehi Sen. Jacob Anderegg’s S.B. 215, which creates a process for low-risk sex offenders to apply to be removed from the Utah Sex and Kidnap Offender Registry after 20 years have passed since the offender was placed on probation or released from incarceration.