Mobile statehouse; Legislators field Logan questions

By Adam Benson
The Herald Journal
August 3, 2005

Long a cultural Cache Valley cornerstone, the Ellen Eccles Theatre on Monday night played host to a different kind of show: politics.

Nearly 50 lawmakers from across the state answered questions presented to them on index cards for about two hours in a town hall meeting, covering topics as diverse as the possible reinstatement of a "porn czar" to what lawmakers should do with budget surpluses.

As for a state pornography ombudsman? Unlikely, at least for now.

"I wonder what one individual with 420 million Web sites would be able to do," said Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley City. "Until we have our courts change based upon the will of the people as to what we define porn as, I don't know how much good an ombudsman will do."

The culmination of a two-day legislative visit to the region, the question-and-answer session returned several times to inquiries about tax reform, open space and higher education.

"I can't predict right now what the Legislature will do, but I still think there's a need to make more money available to match federal funds for conservation easements," said Rep. Craig Buttars, R-Lewiston.

Buttars sponsored a measure that was killed during the last legislative session that would have allowed local governments to ask voters if they'd support an initiative authorizing a one-eighth of a percent increase in sales tax that could go toward agricultural preservation efforts.

Buttars acknowledged reviving the discussion wouldn't be easy, but said it's an issue that will merit further review from state lawmakers.

"I know we've got some strong feelings on both sides of this issue," he said.

Strong feelings also abounded on the issue of higher education, which Sen. Greg Bell, R-Fruit Heights, said was a matter legislators are well aware of.

"Every university and college wants to become greater, more and better," said Bell, co-chairman of the Higher Education Appropriations Committee. "As long as that happens, tuition increases, so we have to stay with the programmatic limitations the Board of Regents and Legislature imposes."

But, he and others said that doesn't mean funding for education has become any less of a priority.

"This last year, the Legislature was extremely generous with our higher education community. They were able to make up lost ground from past years."

The state's Democratic leaders echoed that stance.

"We truly believe that our highest priority in the state budget is for education," said Rep. Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake City, the House minority leader.

His Senate colleague agreed.

"We need to do more because that's the future of our state," said Sen. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City. "I think it should be our priority now, but it also should be a priority in our lean years."

At a bountiful steak dinner at Logan High School on Monday afternoon, legislators touted the importance of their trip to the region and said the issues they discussed will stay with them when January's legislative session begins.

"These trips are absolutely vital," Bell said. "This state is not only Salt Lake (City) ... Logan and Cache Valley's physical beauty and the robust economy up here, we just have to see this stuff," he said.

Talking to local residents also enables state leaders to better understand just who's being affected when legislation comes before them, said Sen. Michael Waddoups, R-West Jordan.

"It certainly helps us understand the day-to-day issues people here are living with," Waddoups said.

Rep. Fred Hunsaker, R-Logan, said the trip's success could stretch onto Capitol Hill.

"I think it will be the area of the state most prominent in (legislators') minds outside their own district," he said.

Copyright © 2005 The Herald Journal. Logan, Utah