MLK license plate bill leads to debate on abortion, gay marriage; Alcohol overhaul advances

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Proposal to create MLK license plates leads to debate on abortion, gay marriage

A seemingly benign proposal to offer a Utah license plate honoring Martin Luther King Jr. veered into discussion Tuesday about abortion and gay marriage.

Some members of the House Transportation Committee balked at the idea because a portion of the money raised by the sale of the special tags would support a human rights awareness program for young people.

Asked what he considered human rights, Utah Martin Luther King Human Rights Foundation chairman Roderic Land mentioned food, shelter, security and education.

However, when asked whether abortion or marrying who we want is a right, land said that he believe in choice, leading discomfort on the part of some legislators. The bill passed out of committee 7-3, but not before some raised concerns that the money from the license plates would be used to help young people study human and civil rights, in addition to providing scholarships.

Paternal rights bill moves forward

A bill that would create a mechanism for an unmarried biological father to get receive notice of a pending adoption was endorsed by a House committee Tuesday.

SB55, which passed in the Utah Senate, is not mandatory, said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross.

But the notification, which could be a certified letter from the mother, would notify the father of his rights to protest the adoption under Utah law. The father then has 30 days to register with the state to declare his paternity. If the adoption does not occur, the father is required to pay child support.

Weiler told members of the House Judiciary Committee that the legislation would enable a birth mother to send notice and "have some certainty to make their plans" to finalize an adoption.

Final reading reached for DABC overhaul

The Utah Senate gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would overhaul the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

The Senate voted unanimously to move SB66 to a final reading in the Senate. The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, would increase the membership of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission from five to seven members and require its meetings and subcommittee meetings to be subject to the state's open meeting laws.

SB66 also places more oversight authority in the hands of the governor, who would appoint the commission's chairman. The body would be split into two subcommittees, one to address licensure and compliance and the other to oversee operations and procurement.

The bill also creates an audit committee within the agency and would require hiring an auditor director. A 12-member advisory board of state liquor license holders also would be established.

Education reform bill advances

The House Standing Education Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to advance a bill that seeks to remove unnecessary state statutes regarding public education.

Rep. Merlynn Newbold, R-South Jordan, sponsored HB156, which would alter the financial literacy requirement for high school graduates as well as discontinue a number of education programs in the state.

Originally, HB156 called for the elimination of the financial literacy requirement but the bill was amended to instead allow students the option of satisfying the requirement by taking a general financial literacy test.The bill was also amended at the committee level to preserve the Quality Teaching Block Grant Program and existing statutes regarding Social Security pay and the assigning of a mentor for educators

Flat rate for hazardous waste fees

A bill that would authorize a study by state hazardous waste regulators passed a committee Tuesday and would entail changing the structure of how disposal fees for the waste are charged.

HB348, sponsored by Rep. Ronda Menlove, R-Garland, would not take effect until June 30, 2014, and give the state Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste time to come up with a standardized fee schedule for disposal.

Currently two companies affected by the proposed changes — EnergySolutions and Clean Harbors — pay a per-tonnage rate for disposal of hazardous waste.

House passes electronic billboard measure

A House bill approved Tuesday would pave the way for billboards across the state to become electronic.

"I think it's only right that we allow our billboard industry to keep up with changes in technology," said Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, sponsor of HB87.

Electronic billboards have been a hot topic on the Hill. Some cities, particularly Salt Lake City, have seen the measure as an intrusion on their policies. Salt Lake City placed a moratorium on new electronic billboards last year.

Brown said the bill would not preclude cities and counties from managing the number and placement of billboards. It would allow them to set curfews on electronic billboards on surface streets. The state would regulate signs on the freeways.

The bill also spells out how local governments may use eminent domain to remove and relocate billboards, including negotiating placement and setting values with arbitration.

HB87 passed 55-16 without debate. It now goes to the Senate.

Alcohol, brain damage and headstones

Though his attempt to again create more state-issued liquor licenses isn't going anywhere, Rep. Gage Froerer has maintained a sense of humor.

When asked on the House floor if he wanted to bring up his bill that would create more liquor licenses for fine dining clubs, the Ogden Republican said, "I can't convince anyone in the other chamber that economic development is important in this state. I will not waste your time or any further brain damage to myself."

Lacking a Senate sponsor, Froerer opted to not pursue HB142.

As the House GOP caucus considered a list of bills for funding, it came to Froerer's meausure.

"The $16,000, I think, is for the headstone," he said.

'Immigration consultant' regulations advance in Senate

The Utah Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill to regulate non-attorney "immigration consultants."

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, said she introduced SB144 to address fraud and risk of identity fraud at the hands of unscrupulous "immigration consultants" hired by refugees, undocumented Utahns as well as legal residents to assist with filling out immigration documents.

SB144, which advanced to the Senate's final reading calendar on a vote of 21-5, would require consultants to register with the state Division of Consumer Protection, undergo criminal background checks and post bonds. It also creates a complaint process for people who have been defrauded.

Robles said the bill had been endorsed by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, The Sutherland Institute and the United Way of Salt Lake.

Senate President Michael Waddoups questioned the need for government regulation in this arena.

"Why should this be the responsibility of the state?" Waddoups said.

Robles said a growing number of people have been taken advantage of by so-called "immigration consultants."

"My biggest concern is identity theft," she said.

According to testimony when the bill was heard in committee earlier this year, immigration consulting services are sometimes offered by one-stop businesses that also sell money orders, prepare taxes and provide translation services.

Attorneys testified that some people attempting to seek legal status have instead ended up in deportation proceedings because of ineffective assistance given by immigration consultants.

Bill calls for 90-day 'cooling off period' in divorces

Married couples seeking a divorce would have to wait at least three months under a bill the Utah House passed Tuesday.

HB316 establishes a 90-day waiting period between the time divorce papers are filed and a court hearing is held.

Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, said one of the reasons Utah's divorce rate exceeds the national average is because the state does not have a "cooling off period" for couples to reconsider their actions.

Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake, opposed the bill, saying it feels like government intrusion into private affairs.

HB316 now goes to the Senate.

President Waddoups: You have mail

What's in Senate President Michael Waddoups' email box?

Oodles of email, as one might imagine. Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, told reporters Tuesday that he opens every email he receives. "It helps me determine where we're going to take the debate," he said.

Recently, Waddoups has been inundated with email on legislation regarding sex education in public schools, e-cigarettes, physician supervision of laser technicians, photography of agricultural operations and gun policy. The latter of which was from "good, down-to-Earth patriots," said Waddoups, a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment.

Pledge participation would be voluntary under amended SB223

Students would have the option to voluntarily participate in the Pledge of Allegiance each school day under amendments to SB223 passed by the Utah Senate Tuesday.

Earlier this week, the Senate gave preliminary approval to the bill, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan. It would have required students K-12 to take part in the pledge.

Tuesday morning, the Senate approved amendments by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, that would require annual instruction about the pledge. It should explain that participation in the pledge is "voluntary and not compulsory."

Students also should be taught that it is acceptable for "someone not to participate in the pledge of allegiance for religious or other reasons" and students should show respect for any student who chooses not to participate, the amendment stated.

Factual innocence amendments advance to Senate

The legal director of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center urged state lawmakers to be mindful of the original intent of the state's factual innocence statute as it contemplates changes to the 2008 law.

Jensie Anderson, also a University of Utah College of Law professor, told members of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday that further amendments to the statute could render it "unusable."

"Our hope would you continue to recognize the intent of that statute," said Anderson, during a hearing on HB307.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, would set a standard for a court's determination of factual innocence.

Under the bill's language, the court must determine by clear and convincing evidence that the petitioner did not commit the offenses of which they were convicted and that determination is based on newly discovered material evidence.

The law is intended to give people who maintain they were wrongfully incarcerated to return to court and prove their innocence. The statute was used recently on behalf of Debra Brown, who was freed from prison last year after spending 17 years behind bars for a 1993 murder in Logan.

The Utah Attorney General's Office has since submitted an appeal to the Utah Supreme Court, seeking a reversal of the 2nd District Court decision.

"It does not address any issues pending in the Cache County case," said Scott Reed, criminal justice division chief for the Utah Attorney General's office. However, other cases are pending, he said.

The committee endorsed the bill, sending to the Senate for further consideration.

Would voters favor statewide sale tax increase for arts, museum?

Voters this fall may be asked whether they would favor a statewide sales tax increase to enhance heritage, culture, arts and museums.

The House narrowly approved a resolution Tuesday to put the question on the 2012 election ballot. Results of the vote would be nonbinding, meaning it would be akin to a public opinion survey.

"This would give us clear information," said Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, sponsor of HJR13.

Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley, opposed the resolution.

"Everytime I've seen a tax increase this is usually how it starts," he said. "I don't think we need a tax increase."

The tax would be equal to the difference between 0.15 percent and the sales and use tax rate imposed by a city or county.

HJR13 now moves to the Senate.

Contributing: Dennis Romboy, Marjorie Cortez, Benjamin Wood, Amy Joi O'Donoghue

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