A bill to protect ancient human remains found on private land passed both houses of the Legislature without a dissenting vote.
SB204, sponsored by Sen. Darin Peterson, R-Nephi, appropriates $99,000 and requires that state archaeologists will take charge of such remains found on private land. Until now, the responsibility and cost has been the landowner's. Kevin Jones, an archaeologist in the State Antiquities Section, testified earlier in the session that human remains turn up 20 to 30 times a year.
He was concerned that because of the expense that faced the landowner, with some fearing the state would shut down a project, that the remains would not always be treated with proper respect. SB204 changes that, with the state stepping in and shouldering the cost.
Also supporting the bill was Forrest Cutch, director of the Division of Indian Affairs.
SB204 passed the Senate on Feb. 20, 27 in favor, 0 against and 2 not voting. On Tuesday, the House gave its assent, 69-0 with 6 not voting.
"We're delighted because this is a great solution," said Palmer DePaulis, executive director of the Utah Department of Community and Culture. "It helps protect the private landowner and it helps our repatriation and cultural affiliation program with the tribes."
Once a police department or coroner determines that remains are not recent, he said, the Antiquities Section will "come out and remove the bones with no cost to the landowner and with no delay to the project."
The section has five working days to remove the remains. The provision intends to ensure insure the work will not unduly hold up a development project.
Then the state will make a determination of the remains' cultural affiliation. They then will be repatriated to a tribe recognized as related to the remains. They will be given back in "a very respectful manner," DePaulis said.
Then the remains can be buried with a blessing from the tribe, he added.
DePaulis was pleased the measure swept through the Legislature without a negative vote.Planners thought this was a good solution, DePaulis said. "We've been working very hard to explain what it does and how it works."