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Utah lawmakers preparing to conclude '04 legislative session

Sun Advocate reporter

The state capitol rotunda is a busy place during the last days of the legislature. The beauty of the building is often lost in the pressures of political intrigue and party politics that go on there.

As the 2004 Utah Legislature nears the end of a 45-day run, many bills are starting to come to the floor.

Legislative proposals receiving top consideration in committees are being removed from contention by negative votes or passed onto the floors of the Utah Senate or the House for general debate and consideration.

Carbon County's elected representatives continue to work on various bills and fight against the passage of legislation the state lawmakers think may have a negative affect on the local area.

"A notable bill with concerning consequences is Senate Bill 216 (health provider reimbursement amendments) which seeks to change the way health maintenance organizations (HMO) operate," pointed out Senator Mike Dmitrich during an interview on Tuesday.

"The new law would require HMOs to reimburse an insured individual for up to 95 percent of costs when that individual receives coverage from a non-HMO contracted health care provider," explained the state senator representing Carbon County at the 2004 Utah Legislature

The proposed legislation may sound good to many people residing in the Carbon County area. But the organizations are able to keep prices down by working through a contracted network of health care providers.

The problem is Senate Bill 216 would "change the dynamics of the health insurance market in a way that would place an additional increase on HMO insurance premiums," indicated Dmitrich.

The proposed legislation would apply to approximately 35 percent of the HMOs in Utah. The remaining 65 percent of health maintenance organizations operating at locations across the state are exempt under federal law.

The HMOs that would be impacted by passage of the legislative proposal generally cover the majority of small businesses having a difficult time providing proper health care insurance to employees now, according to the senator.

Education is also important to the Carbon County area.

On Tuesday, the Utah House of Representatives' education committee killed a proposal which would have basically repealed Senate Bill 154.

Senate Bill 154 places numerous types of parameters on education, including:

•Making students prove competency rather than passing grade levels based on time spent in class.

•Defining the way school members come to sit on the governing body.

•Licensing for teachers based on knowledge of education and the subjects of instruction.

In an unrelated public educational matter, the Utah House passed a bill on Tuesday which would create a state charter school board.

In the event the Utah Senate endorses the House bill, the job of the board members would be to evaluate and approve applications for starting new charter schools in Utah.

Ultimately, the state's public school board would still have power regarding final approval.

But proponents of the proposed legislative action maintain that passage of the charter school bill would provide for a more consistent examination of possible new educational institutions.

Regarding an unrelated issue, the Senate and the House have bills that would affect how the Utah Division of Children and Families could operate.

Proponents of the proposed legislation maintain that House Bill 266 would set standards for establishing a better balance between parental rights and what DCFS and the state could do.

Senate Bill 126 and Senate Bill 42 would affect the powers of DCFS.

However, Dmitrich believes passage of the proposed measures will not be good for the children of the state.

"Both bills reduce the ability that DCFS has to protect children," commented the state senator. "It is important that we maintain the protections that the agency offers for children. Hopefully, the Legislature will realize that both bills have far reaching implications and, as such, will move these bills to an interim committee for further study."

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