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Lawmaker proposes highway signs to honor fallen Utah troopers

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 14 2012 3:37 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — New signs honoring fallen Utah Highway Patrol troopers — in addition to memorial crosses — could be placed along the state's roadways in the future.

Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, introduced a bill in the Legislature on Tuesday allowing the Utah Department of Transportation to erect highway safety signs that also recognize troopers killed in the line of duty.

"It's pretty simple, actually," he said.

The signs would not replace the 14 roadside crosses the Utah Highway Patrol Association recently removed from public property because a court found them an unconstitutional display of religious imagery. The UHPA is refurbishing the markers and intends to put them up on private property.

"It's different than what we're doing," said Chad McWilliams, UHP president. "Ours will still be going up."

American Atheists Inc. sued the UHP and the UHP  Association in 2005, claiming the crosses are an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion. A panel of three appeals court judges reversed the federal court ruling in Utah and ruled in favor of New Jersey-based American Atheists in August 2010, requiring the state to remove the crosses. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider an appeal by the state, allowing the appellate ruling to stand.

Wilson said HB182 would accomplish two purposes.

First, the signs would acknowledge the sacrifice the troopers made and let their families know "we appreciate them sticking with us through the cross issue" in the courts, he said.

Second, the signs would remind motorists that troopers are on the highways. Cars hit at least 20 troopers last year, causing injuries but no deaths.

The signs — 4 feet by 9 feet on the interstates and 3½ feet by 7 feet on state roads — would say something such as "It's the law. Slow down. Move over. In memory of Trooper John Smith." The top half would resemble a speed limit sign, while the memorial piece would be blue.

Wilson said the UHP, UDOT and the fallen troopers' families would work together to determine placement of the signs.

"We'll be able to get them in good, highly visible locations," he said.

UDOT is neutral on the bill because the money to erect the signs is not in its proposed budget, said spokeswoman Tania Mashburn. The cost to make and put up the signs is estimated to be $20,000.

"If it does pass and if some other method of funding is produced, we would be supportive," she said.

The bill would allow voluntary contributions and state funds to pay for the signs. It currently does not include an appropriation.

E-mail: romboy@desnews.com Twitter: dennisromboy

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