SALT LAKE CITY — Conservative control is nothing new to Utah, where Republicans have long dominated statehouse politics, and the 2011 Legislature was no exception.
The GOP majority in the Legislature, including new members elected with tea party support, spent plenty of time talking about many of the same issues as their counterparts nationally.
Unlike those states that saw a dramatic swing to the right this year, however, Utah lawmakers were seen as avoiding potentially extreme positions on immigration, abortion and guns last session.
Yes, lawmakers passed a much-touted illegal immigration enforcement bill modeled after the controversial Arizona law. But that bill was toned down considerably.
And the enforcement bill was accompanied by another piece of immigration legislation, creating a guest worker program. The far right bitterly fought the bill, labeling it amnesty for those here illegally.
That's lead to criticism of GOP Gov. Gary Herbert for signing the bill, which reflected his call for a balanced approach to immigration legislation. Up for re-election next year, the governor is already being described by at least one tea party organizer as politically weak.
When it comes to another red-meat issue — guns — lawmakers went so far as to make the Browning semi-automatic the official state gun. But they didn't follow through on talk of allowing concealed weapons to be carried without a permit.
As for abortion, they did pass a trio of bills described as an effort to limit abortions, including one requiring more frequent inspections of clinics and doctors' offices. Also, doctors will have to tell state licensing officials if they perform elective abortions.
The issue that caused the biggest public outcry last session was an attempt to quietly overhaul the state's open records law. After the GOP majority passed the bills just days after it was introduced, Herbert pushed them into amending its effective date so there'd be more time to review the proposed changes.
But after several energetic rallies against the bill were held that included both liberals and conservatives, the governor called lawmakers back into special session to repeal it. A task force that includes media and public representatives is now studying the issue.
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