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April 4: Utah Redistricting and Teens in Foster Care



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SALT LAKE CITY -- This week on Sunday Edition two important issues are discussed: redistricting in Utah and the challenges for teens in foster care.

KSL's Richard Piatt speaks with Utah Senate Pres. Michael Waddoups and Fair Boundaries representative Randy Miller about gerrymandering and the second congressional district in Utah. Sen. Waddoups was the chair of the last redistricting committee and Randy Miller serves on the board of Fair Boundaries and is the founder of the Utah League of Independent Voters.

Piatt then talks about the issues teens in foster care face and what can be done to help with Utah Foster Care Foundation CEO Kelly Peterson and a former foster child Jode Littlepage, who now heads the transition to adulthood program.

Segment 1: Redistricting

Redistricting is a national topic this year because of the census. The U.S. Constitution requires that a census be taken every ten years to apportion U.S. House of Representative seats. In Utah and other states, the census also marks the time for evaluating state legislative districts. But, it's impossible to talk about redistricting without bringing up the the issue of gerrymandering.

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There are different opinions about how to deal with gerrymandering, one of many redistricting issues. The Fair Boundaries organization is currently seeking signatures to put an initiative on the ballot in November.

The initiative seeks to take the power of drawing district lines out of the hands of the legislature and put it into the control of a 11 member commission.

The first topic of discussion is whether Utah's Congressional District 2 is gerrymandered. Sen. Waddoups says that it is not.

"This district was drawn, along with the other two districts, specifically to have an equal number of constituents through the district," he says. "All three districts have exactly the same number. All three have rural parts of the state in them. All three have parts of Salt Lake County. The intention in drawing this, was to have equality of rural and urban and equality of numbers."

Miller disagrees.

"It absolutely is a gerrymandered district. One thing that gets neglected from [Sen. Waddoups'] statement is that several hundred thousand people, when that boundary was redrawn, several hundred thousand people were redrawn from one district into another," he explains. "It was done to favor a particular, popular, incumbent party, to try and maintain their status and put their man in that position."

According to Miller, the Fair Boundaries Initiative is important because the current system has problems.

"Not just the Utah Constitution but the United States Constitution charges the legislature to redraw the districts after each census. The only problem is that inside of that there is an inherent conflict of interest," he says. "You have the fox watching the hen house."

Sen. Waddoups admits that there is a conflict of interest but says that everyone has a conflict.

"I think that there is a conflict of interest. We are all wanting to be reelected or we wouldn't run, but who doesn't have a conflict of interest. Everyone has a conflict of interest that lives in this state - they want the best district drawn for their area."

He says that it is more like "a rooster guarding the hen house, but certainly not a fox." He believes that because elected officials are drawing the boundaries, the public will vote them out if they don't approve.

Segment 2: Teens in Foster Care

The recent economic downturn has made it harder to find families for children in foster care, but for teens in the system finding families is always difficult.

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"There is that stigma out there, but most of the kids that are in care, that are teenagers, are in care is because of parental abuse or neglect. They are not in care because of delinquency or for being ungovernable," explains Peterson. "They are in care because they need a family just like their little brothers and sisters do."

Littlepage, an alumnus of the foster care system wants people to know, "We are just normal kids that just need a good strong support system."

The Utah Foster Care Foundation is always looking for families to help but are especially looking for people who are good with teens. Even if you cannot become a foster parent, there are many ways to help. For example, business can offer internships for teens in foster care or you can donate to the Wishing Well.

Donations to the Wishing Well go to foster children for everything from special education services, vision and dental care to camps, prom dresses and senior class photos.

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