When HB 239 passed in March, legislators understood that the sweeping changes to the juvenile justice system mandated by the bill wouldn’t take place overnight. As officials work toward implementation, public hearings explaining the changes have taken place throughout Utah.
HB 239 affects 66 sections of Utah Code. It makes several changes to different aspects of Utah’s juvenile justice system in order to reduce the number of low-level and first-time youth offenders being admitted to youth detention facilities. According to Donovan Bergstrom, Juvenile Justice Services program director, when the changes take effect on August 1, they’re expected to lower the number of youth placed in detention by 10.6 percent.
Rep. Lowry Snow, the bill’s primary sponsor, said the bill may have been one of the largest passed in its legislative session, and that its implementation could take one to two years.
“Passing legislation that is this sweeping, in some terms, requires a process over time to implement,” Snow said. “But also, having information come back so that in the future, as we arrive at future legislative sessions, if changes need to be made in the legislation to streamline it or perhaps deal with what we call unintended consequences, we’re still able to do that.”
The committee overseeing the bill’s implementation, chaired by Snow, has held three public hearings explaining the bill during the last month: one in Logan, one in Salt Lake City and one in Saint George.
One of the committee’s stated goals is to gather feedback from stakeholders. Because of the bill’s emphasis on discipline for minor offenses, like truancy, taking place in schools rather than courts, assistant superintendent of the State Board of Education Patty Norman and Alpine School District superintendent Samuel Jarman are part of the committee.
“Part of the bill will have impact on schools, especially the secondary school system I think, in dealing with truancy,” Snow said. “For example, the provision that no longer allows a school to refer to juvenile court a student for truancy is a pretty significant deviation from the way those have been handled in the past by most districts.”
Changes are also being made to what is considered an admissible offense, an offense for which youth can be admitted to detention facilities. Three or more misdemeanors from one criminal event will no longer be grounds for admission. Neither will failure to appear in court for more than 12 months. However, any single misdemeanor involving weapons or harm to a person will now be grounds for admission, as will four class A misdemeanors including lewdness and sexual battery.
While there are no future public hearings scheduled, the committee will continue to accept comment via email, requesting that those who write include R547-13 in the subject line.
“The information from those who actually do the work of the implementation is really helpful and critical in future legislative exercises to make sure that, if necessary, that we get it right going forward,” Snow said.
The overview of HB 239 presented at the public hearing in Logan can be seen below.