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Bill Would Fix Problems with Amendment Three

Bill Would Fix Problems with Amendment Three

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A state senator has introduced a bill to give unmarried couples joint property and health care rights, fixing what many said was a problem with the constitutional ban on gay marriage.

But Sen. Gregory Bell, R-Fruit Heights, said the constitutional change approved by Utah voters in November wasn't his motivation.

"It addresses the need of persons who may have some relationship other than marriage to delegate responsibilities to each other," Bell said Tuesday.

That was the problem raised by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who warned the gay marriage ban could take away rights from common-law partners of different sexes. But if Bell's legislation is a solution to the amendment's flaws, the senator insisted he didn't mean it to be so.

Bell said Utah's gay marriage ban "did raise some practical problems," but he added, "I don't think there's any legal problem with the amendment."

He characterized his legislation as an effort to "make life simpler for people" in unconventional relationships.

Bell said two unmarried partners could affirm their rights by giving each power of attorney over the other, but that Senate Bill 89 simplifies the procedure with a state-sanctioned "mutual dependence benefits contract."

The contract would give unmarried partners 18 and over joint property ownership and hospital visitation rights. It would give one partner the right to make decisions for another who becomes incapacitated, including the right to consent to surgery or accept a transplanted organ.

The contract also would give one partner the right to bury another at death.

Among other bills filed by legislators in advance of the 45-day session starting Jan. 17:

--Bell introduced a measure requiring lobbyists to report any expenditure of more than $10 spent on legislators, down from the $25 rule.

--Rep. David Ure, R-Kamas, would create an Alcoholic Beverage Control task force charged with simplifying Utah's complex and restrictive liquor laws to accommodate tourists. The 17-member task force would be made up of legislators, liquor regulators, the restaurant trade, the Utah Travel Council and others.

--Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, proposed a tenfold increase in tourism promotion funding to $10 million a year.

--Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, and Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, want to crack down on barroom smoking. Waddoup's bill would outlaw smoking in private clubs and taverns, and Ray's would let municipalities accomplish the same thing by adopting stricter regulations than those of the Utah Clean Air Act.

--Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, proposed a $3 million Motion Picture Incentive Fund using tax dollars.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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