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Utah's lawmakers scrambling to consider legislative proposals

Sun Advocate reporter

This crosswalk near the College of Eastern Utah is one of the busiest and most motorists in the area know about it, but unlike this truck that has stopped for the pedestrian, often vehicles can be seen speeding through the area. Citizens are reminded that not stopping at crosswalks can result in a hefty fine, but more importantly reckless actions can also result in an injury or death for someone.

With more than 800 bills to consider during the 2004 session of the Utah Legislature, lawmakers often have to consider what is of direct importance to local constituencies.

The session has been marked by the usual number of nonsense bills that seem to create work for legislators and take valuable time away from the issues mattering to the people the elected officials represent.

For example, House Bill 51 would require fees for out-of-state off road vehicles to operate in Utah.

"At first glance, this bill is a reasonable attempt to get out-of-state snowmobilers and off roaders to pay their fair share of improvements and grooming on Utah trails," stated Brad King, state representative from district 69. "Unfortunately, as a result of further study, we worried about the impact that this fee might have, especially on sponsored local events such as off-road safaris, organized motorcycle races and other similar events which bring in significant amounts of money to our rural economies."

By working with the sponsor of the bill, King believes the lawmakers have found a way to exempt the events from the fee.

"For us, the impact of the fee money would be minimal at best, whereas the money that comes to our communities as a result of motel room rentals, gasoline purchases and restaurant patronage is critical to our economy."

Another issue causing heartburn is the federal no child left behind legislation. Proposed by Rep. Margaret Dayton, House Bill 43 would keep Utah school districts from having to participate in the process.

"Educators and districts in southeast Utah, the state and the nation have almost universally denounced the legislation as well intentioned but ill conceived if not hurtful," King commented. "The measure has mandated sweeping changes in the way schools are operated and evaluated."

"It is estimated that, in order to fully implement these changes, it would cost the state several hundred million dollars, while the federal government has only funded the state about $105 million," added the Utah representative.

King said the bill seeks to send a message to the United States to stay out of education.

"I believe that, if we had the power to repeal NCLB, it would be a unanimous vote in favor of rejecting it," stated King. "The difficulty comes when we look at how dependant certain rural school districts are upon their portion of that $105 million. If this bill indeed puts those funds in jeopardy I will be voting against it despite my personal feelings about the NCLB provisions."

Another area of interest is always the power that the state and federal government try to exercise over local governments, through various means. The biggest issue almost always has to do with land and water.

Often it seems the federal government tries to run over local agencies on land planning issues. Representative Darin Peterson, who represents district 67, which includes the western part of Carbon County, thinks another measure plying through the house may help alleviate some of that problem.

"A state land plan proposed by Representative Brad Johnson is being talked about which I believe helps us as a state," stated Petersen on Monday. " In a nutshell it makes federal bureaucracies consider state and local plans in their decisions. We currently do not have a state land plan, leaving us vulnerable and somewhat defenseless against federal decisions."

Locally Carbon County has been working hard to update their land views and their master plan so that they can utilize it if federal powers try to take action that may harm the county negatively.

Another measure, House Bill 206, would give more power to rural counties and take away some of the Governor's power over the Constitutional Defense Council.

The council, made up of 12 people, oversees a $1 million plus budget that is used to contest decisions that the federal government has put in place or intends to put in place. The bill would take away the power of the governor to appoint representatives to the council, would keep the governor or the governor's designees from spending money from the budget and would make it so the governor's office could not designate any legal action using the fund without the councils approval. The bill would also allow the four county commissioners on the council to convene a meeting on their own and make decisions.

Another bill that could affect the local school district, in the area of sports, and possibly other extra curricular activities, is House Bill 98. The bill is about eligibility rules for high school athletes. Provisions of this bill could restrict athletes from one school deciding to go to another within whose attendance boundaries they do not live. That would even be true within the same school district.

While the bill is coming from a representative who lives in an urban area where one of the high schools continues to loose students to another nearby high school with seemingly better athletic programs, it could affect rural schools severely. For instance, over the years, a number of students who attended Carbon High have transferred to East Carbon and participated in sports there. Some have done it for academic reasons, others have done it for athletic purposes.

While proponents of the bill say that activities other than athletics would not be affected, it would seem that kind of a change could only be a step away with some different language in the provisions of the bill.

The legislature is now about a third done with its session and as bills continued to come out of committees, more and more will be considered on the floors of both the Senate and the House. Obviously, the action will start to accelerate in the next couple of weeks.

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