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SALT LAKE CITY — Here's a look at what happened at the Capitol on Monday and Tuesday, including the passing of bills on cellphone restriction while driving and carrying guns in public. Count My Vote also announced the end of their petition drive after Gov. Gary Herbert signed their deal with lawmakers.
The House also passed a bill that would ban schools from asking students if their parent or guardians owned any guns. Student winners were honored at the Capitol for their clean air projects they made in school.
Utah drivers would be further restricted on how they use cellphones under a bill the state Senate passed Monday.
"Currently, our texting law is ambiguous," said Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George, sponsor of SB253.
While state law prohibits texting while driving, it doesn't address using cellphones or handheld electronic devices for other purposes. The bill would ban sending email, dialing a phone number, accessing the Internet, watching or recording video and entering data from behind the wheel. It does not outlaw using a device for global positioning or navigation services.
With only a few days left before the close of business at the Utah Legislature, clean energy advocates made a renewed call for passage of key legislation and trotted out the premier players behind renewable energy projects in Utah.
First Wind, the company behind the state's largest wind farm, is now embarking on seven solar projects in Iron and Beaver counties, while Energy Capital Group is pursuing development of what is touted to be Utah's largest commercial solar field in Millard County.
"The clean energy sector in Utah is alive and thriving," said Sarah Wright, executive director of Utah Clean Energy and organizer of the first Clean Energy Business Day at the Capitol on Monday.
A person openly carrying a gun without criminal intent would not be grounds for a disorderly conduct charge under a bill the Utah House passed Monday.
HB276 says having a holstered or encased firearm, whether visible or concealed, without behavior that would cause a reasonable person to believe the weapon was being carried illegally or with criminal intent does not constitute disorderly conduct.
School officials would be banned from asking students if their parents own firearms under the terms of a bill passed Monday by the Utah House.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem, said she was motivated to propose HB397 after learning of a smartphone application that mapped out the gun owners in a neighborhood from user-provided information.
"I can’t control the information people are turning in on their neighbors, but we can at least prevent schools from doing it," Layton said.
At the end of last year, Luke Parker decided to do something about all the cars idling at Upland Terrace School in Millcreek.
Luke, 12, made a poster to remind parents to turn off their cars while waiting in the school parking lot. Every day, he'd look in the newspaper and update the poster to reflect the air quality that day, whether it was green, yellow or red.
He also walked around a few times a week to tell parents about the harm idling creates.
"Idling is bad, and it can hurt people a lot," Luke said, "like it can give people cancer and even (cause) inversions. They have less fun. … People stay inside during recess because of asthma."
A Utah state senator confirmed Monday that she will attempt to revive a bill intended to initiate an interstate compact to share information on putative father registries.
A substitute version of SB63 passed easily in the Utah Senate but was killed in a House committee Friday evening.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake City, introduced a similar bill last year. The bill was debated over the summer during the Legislature’s interim meeting and further refined this session with the help of Republican colleagues in the Senate, Robles said.
“I’m going to try to lift it out of (the) House Rules (Committee),” she said late Monday.
After Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill Monday spelling out a deal between lawmakers and backers of Count My Vote, the group announced an end to the initiative petition drive to change the state's caucus and convention system.
"We are stopping the initiative," said Taylor Morgan, a co-executive director of the organization, following an announcement by the governor's office that he had signed SB54 into law.
Morgan said Count My Vote, which had raised more than $1 million and collected more than 100,000 signatures calling for the state to switch to direct primary elections, said the bill accomplished the goal of increasing voter participation.
A bill allowing the State School Board to sanction school districts for going behind its back to the federal government passed the House on Monday.
HB425, sponsored by Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, would empower the State School Board to restrict state funds allocated to a local school or school district for failing to receive board approval before entering into a funding agreement with the U.S. Department of Education.
Eliason said the bill allows state education officials to "repel any unwanted federal intrusion." He said there have been instances in other states where federal officials have circumvented the wishes of state leadership to contract with local school administrators.
Candidates running for state office will still be allowed to take campaign contributions of any size after legislation to set limits was killed Monday night in the House with a 35-38 vote.
HB297 aimed to set limits on campaign contributions to “increase the confidence of the public that we are acting with integrity,” according to bill sponsor Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City.
Multiple lawmakers said the bill has good intentions, but they questioned whether the bill would accomplish the sponsor’s intent and said it might just encourage more circumvention.
Sen. Aaron Osmond said Tuesday that, as a child, he was the recipient of abuse by a nonrelative.
Osmond, R-South Jordan, was followed by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, who said he was attacked by a man while he was in the seventh grade and walking through a field on his way to school.
Then Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, stood and told the story of a Boy Scout leader who asked him to pose shirtless for a photograph. He thought nothing of it at the time but eventually realized the man was likely working up his courage to molest a young boy.
"My parents never talked to me about that stuff," Weiler said. "They sent me off with my church Scout troop."
The senators' comments came during an at-times emotional floor debate of HB286, which would create a curriculum of child abuse prevention training and materials for Utah's public schools.
Contributing: Madeleine Brown, Marjorie Cortez,Amy Joy O'Donoghue, Lisa Riley Roche, Dennis Romboy, Benjamin Wood