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Abstinence-only ed passes, along with several other ed bills

Abstinence-only ed passes, along with several other ed bills

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Senate nods at prohibiting agricultural surveillance billThe Utah Senate gave a preliminary nod Tuesday to a bill intended to prohibit trespassing or obtaining employment at agricultural operations with the intent of recording images or sound. The Senate voted 19-7 Tuesday to send HB187 to a final vote in the Senate.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, targets people who intentionally seek employment in agricultural operations "who have no reason to be there except espionage, to spy on the operation," Hinkins said.

Abstinence-only bill passes in Senate

A controversial bill that mandates an abstinence-only sex education curriculum for Utah public schools passed the Utah Senate with little debate on Tuesday.

The Senate followed the lead of the House in voting mostly along party lines for HB363, which defines sex education in Utah as abstinence-only and bans instruction in sexual intercourse, homosexuality, contraceptive methods and sexual activity outside of marriage.

The bill will now go before Gov. Gary Herbert for consideration. A representative of the governor's office would not say if the governor intends to sign the bill, noting that revisions during the legislative process means a final draft of the bill will need to be reviewed.

Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, sponsored the bill in response to what he viewed as inappropriate material being presented in classrooms, specifically materials produced by Planned Parenthood. Throughout the course of the legislative session he said that sex education should take place in the home and was pleased to see the bill pass in the Senate.

Suicide prevention training for teachers passes

After weeks of emotional testimony, lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday that would require two hours of suicide prevention training every five years for Utah public school teachers.

During her presentation of the bill on Tuesday, Senate sponsor Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said Utah has the second highest rate of youth suicide in the nation. She also cited statistics showing that Utah students rank above the national average in experiencing feelings of depression and hopelessness and attempting suicide.

Under HB501, materials on youth suicide prevention will be developed by the State Board of Education and incorporated into professional development for public education employees. Mayne said there would be little to no cost due to materials already being available from various sources.

Attempt to take back federal lands moves forward

The Utah Senate took another step Tuesday to push back against the federal government's control of public lands and the resulting financial impacts to the state.

The bottom line, said Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, is that "the federal government may have the right to handle federal lands, but it does not have the power to breach a contract."

Valentine explained that when Utah became a state in 1896, it essentially entered a contract with the federal government that said Congress would sell federally controlled land with 5 percent of proceeds going to a public education trust fund.

The Senate, on a vote of 22-7, moved the bill to a final vote over the protest of Democrats. The bill creates a mechanism to sue if the federal government does not transfer title to Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands to the state by the end of 2014.

House says 'yes' to connecting 7 ski resorts

Despite concerns about environmental impacts, Utah lawmakers have endorsed the idea of connecting seven ski resorts in the Park City area and the Cottonwood canyons.

The House passed a resolution Tuesday supporting the concept of linking Park City Mountain Resort, The Canyons, Deer Valley, Brighton Solitude, Alta and Snowbird. The Senate approved it last week.

"This is not about a specific proposal or a specific study," Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden, said of SCR10.

Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Salt Lake, called the resolution premature because the impact on the watershed and traffic are not known. She noted that Big and Little Cottonwood canyons were off limits for the 2002 Winter Games for those reasons.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon oppose the ski-connect proposal.

Education funding passes both chambers

Both chambers of the Utah Legislature unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that would provide additional funding to public schools, while education advocates are still lobbying for more before the session adjourns at midnight Thursday.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, sponsored SB2, which increases the weighted pupil unit (WPU) value by 1.15 percent — accounting for approximately $24 million — as part of a $70 million supplement to the $3.5 billion public education base budget signed by the governor in February. Hillyard estimated that after the legislative session is completed, the education budget will receive between $110 million and $115 million in additional funding.

Performance pay and teacher evaluations pass

The Utah Legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill Tuesday that would implement annual evaluations and performance-based pay for public school administrators.

Under SB64, future salary increases for administrators would be tied to the evaluations until 15 percent of their salary is performance-based. Teachers would also be evaluated annually and would be ranked on a 1-4 scale for use in remediation, salary increases and termination.

Dems denounce Healthcare Compact

A bill to allow Utah to opt out of federal health care reform laws and assume responsibility for programs such as Medicare and Medicaid is "not a benign message bill," said Senate Minority Assistant Whip Patricia Jones.

"This is a lose-lose proposition," Jones said at a press conference Tuesday.

SB208, which is before the Utah House after passing the Senate on a vote of 21-8 Monday, would allow the state to join a Healthcare Compact of several states seeking the same autonomy. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he believes Utah could manage health care programs more efficiently and provide better care for patients.

Under the Healthcare Compact, the state would assume the federal funding for and oversight of programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program or CHIP under a block grant funding mechanism. Funding for growth would be provided. However, Congress would have to give its approval to the states for the compact to take effect.

Local governments could set up own ethics commissions

Cities, counties and school districts would be able to create their own ethics commission under a bill Utah lawmakers are considering.

SB180 does not mandate local government set up the commission but gives them the option.

Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, said it puts locally elected officials under the same ethics guidelines as state legislators.

Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove, said he liked the concept in the bill, but has concerns it could be used to attack or bully local officials.

Ethics issues have arisen recently in Cedar Hills, which is part of Frank's district, and in Provo.

Because the House amended SB180, it goes back to the Senate for consideration.

Loophole in texting law closed

Texting while driving is against the law in Utah. But police and local prosecutors say they discovered a loophole that allowed drivers to avoid a citation if they didn't actually send the message.

The Legislature closed the loophole Tuesday with SB98, which has now passed the House and Senate. The law does not apply to voice-operated texting.

House members raised several questions about the bill, which passed 39-32.

"My concerns with the change is there is no way of proving or knowing when I typed that message," said Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City.

Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, said it's his understanding that law enforcement has the technology to determine when a text message was written.

Rep. Brad Daw, R-Orem, said in many cases there is no way to tell when a message was entered and that the time stamp comes when the text is sent.

"I'd have some troubles with that bill," he said.

SB98 goes to the governor for consideration.

Senate OKs signs honoring troopers

The Utah Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill to allow the Utah Department of Transportation to erect highway safety signs honoring fallen Utah Highway Patrol troopers.

"Not only do we recognize these troopers, it reminds people what's going on on these highways," said Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, of the signage. The signs include the name of a fallen trooper, and reminders to drive safely and to wear seat belts.

The signs do not replace the 14 roadside crosses the Utah Highway Patrol Association recently removed from public property because a federal court found them an unconstitutional display of religious imagery. The Utah Highway Patrol Association is refurbishing the markers and intends to put them up on private property.

Senate pushes common core standards for education

On a vote of 21-6, the Utah Senate passed a resolution Wednesday asking the Utah State Board of Education to reconsider the adoption of common core standards in English, mathematics and language arts.

SCR13, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, asks the elected school board to reconsider the standards in the context of concerns raised during the legislative session.

"We believe strongly in maintaining our sovereignty," said Osmond, explaining that the state fears its future influence will be diluted by the federal government yet the state will be tied to standards without federal dollars to support the programs.

Yet others said the standards were developed in a cooperative effort among the states.

"Utah joined with no strings attached," said Sen. Ben McAdams, D-Salt Lake. "That is federalism at its best."

But Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said there is a growing movement in the education community — the State Board of Education and superintendent — to reassert the state's sovereignty over educational matters.

Stephenson said there is "not one word in our constitution giving the federal government any control over public education.”

But McAdams argued that the standards were developed by the states with the intent of helping students compete in a global marketplace.

"I think it sends the wrong message at the wrong time to pass this resolution," he said.

Contributing: Benjamin Wood, Marjorie Cortez, Dennis Romboy

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