Five new health bills approved by Utah House HHS Committee, including expansion of congregate care for homeless youth

Friday’s meeting of the Utah House Health and Human Services Committee resulted in unanimous do-pass recommendations for five new bills. The progressing legislation concerns congregate care programs, changes to involuntary commitment programs and modifications to the Children’s Hearing Aid Program, among others.


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House Bill 135 would amend current law pertaining to congregate care programs. Sponsored by Rep. Marsha Judkins, the bill aims to ensure the safe return of children who flee congregate care settings. The bill defines congregate care programs as outdoor youth programs, residential support programs, residential treatment programs or therapeutic schools.

“Utah has more congregate care programs than any other state, and 90% of the youth that we serve are from out of state,” Judkins said.

There is currently an interstate compact that regulates children in public-placement — in the custody of the state — who are displaced from congregate care. These amendments would add a “disruption plan” for children who leave private-placement living settings. “Private-placement” refers to children in foster care. It would require the interstate compact regulating children under public placement to also apply to children under private placement, providing means for these children to be returned to safe living settings.

House Bill 155, sponsored by Rep. Nelson Abbott, would change current involuntary commitment rules. Abbott’s bill would encourage the increased use of assisted outpatient treatment for detained individuals with mental illness rather than civil commitments. This would avoid civil liberties violations that occur when detaining an individual against their will under civil commitment procedures. If the bill passes, humane assisted outpatient procedures would be used more frequently.

“What I’m trying to do here is create a balanced bill that will allow people with mental illness to receive more effective treatment while also protecting their constitutional rights, their humanity and their civil liberties,” Abbott said.

Representative Jeffrey Stenquist is sponsoring HB 148, a substitute bill that would define the funding source for the public alcohol awareness education program. The funding would come directly from alcohol revenue from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control before being transferred to the general fund. The program was defunded during special session, preventing the program from starting.

The substitute would make the Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Substance Use in charge of the program. It would also give oversight of the program to the Utah Substance Use and Mental Health Advisory Council.

House Bill 212 modifies protection provisions for homeless youth. The original bill allows minors who leave harmful living situations to sign themselves into licensed living facilities without being subject to the authority of their guardians. It also allowed people to harbor these individuals without being subject to penalties. Amendments to this bill would allow the person providing care to one of these individuals to refer them to temporary or permanent housing, employment resources, medical care, dental care or counseling.

“At any point in our year, we’ve got 2,000 or more young people in homeless situations,” said Rep. Elizabeth Weight, the sponsor of the bill. 

Rep. Norman Thurston is sponsoring a substitute to the Children’s Hearing Aid Program under HB 118. The bill would create a voluntary payment program in which its beneficiaries are encouraged to contribute their own money to the costs of the program.

Thurston believes the money given the program is not being used to its full potential.

“One of my concerns is that we don’t get as much value as we could for our money as a state,” Thurston said. “There’s no federal match, we have a relatively high income threshold to allow people to participate, and there’s no expectation of performance on the part of the recipients.”

Representative Kelly Miles and Sen. John Johnson are sponsoring SB 54. This bill would push back the end date (called the “sunset date” in the bill) of the Kurt Oscarson Transplant Coordination Committee, a committee that distributes low-interest loans to children undergoing organ transplants.

Since the sunset date had already been pushed back multiple times, the committee members ultimately decided to amend the bill to make the committee permanent.