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SALT LAKE CITY — A committee of lawmakers Friday agreed to pass a bill that would set up a special account to possibly fund the burial of Native American remains in certain state parks.
The burials would be done in consultation with tribes, which could apply for a grant to help cover the expenses.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, is the sponsor of HB394, which establishes the account and proposes a study on which parks would be appropriate for a discreet resting place for remains discovered on public lands in Utah.
Noel said the issue came up during the construction of a reservoir in his district, where 51 separate sets of human remains were discovered.
After consulting with tribes, 1 acre was set aside to bury the remains.
"We transferred the land to the Archaeological Society of America and provided a grant," he said.
Noel said Native American remains are frequently unearthed during any number of construction activities, but only about 20 percent are claimed. The repatriation of the remains can prove costly and complicated, which may make some tribes reluctant to step forward, he added.
The bill sets up a process for tribes to apply for a grant from a newly established restricted account. It also directs the Utah Division of Parks and Recreation and the antiquities section of the state history division to convene a study and report back to the committee by Nov. 1 if the idea is feasible.
Park officials said the remains could be put in a discreet section of a park, remain unmarked and fenced off to honor the dead.
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, praised Noel's bill.
"I think this is very humane and very thoughtful," he said.
The bill now goes before the full House.