Governor: 2012 had a spirit of cooperation and collaboration

Utah Legislature's quiet session punctuated with shouts of states' rights

Published: Friday, March 9 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

A bill to encourage premarital counseling died, as did another that would have required a divorce orientation before a party could file a petition to dissolve a marriage. However, the Legislature passed a bill to restore a 90-day waiting period before any divorce hearing could be conducted once a petition is filed.

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, said many of the issues to come before the committee are indicative of larger societal problems that affect individuals' lives and impact government coffers.

"If we can preserve the family better, we could get rid of so many of our problems," he said.

Another bill passed by lawmakers will require people who apply for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families benefits to complete a questionnaire regarding substance abuse. If evaluators determine further assistance is needed, recipients would undergo drug screens and drug treatment if needed.

Abortion, sex ed, other issues

In a legislative session dominated by education issues and states' rights matters, a few other issues captured significant public attention.

Lawmakers adopted the nation's longest waiting period between initial consultation and undergoing an abortion: 72 hours. The waiting period was 24 hours.

Women can undergo a consultation anywhere in the state.

Critics have argued the change places an undue burden on women. A similar law passed by the South Dakota Legislature was enjoined by a federal court.

Sex education in public schools was hotly debated, including a polite request from Rep. Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake, to Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, to define erotic behavior on the House floor. The Legislature ultimately adopted a policy of teaching abstinence-only or nothing in Utah schools.

The House also derailed a bill that would have let school districts talk about human sexuality with parents at an annual seminar.

Lawmakers said they received the most email over a measure to prohibit photography and recording sound at private agricultural operations without permission of the owner or operator.

Even TV and film actress Katherine Heigl lobbied lawmakers against the so-called Ag-Gag measure, which lawmakers passed. The bill also would penalize people who obtain employment on farms, ranches or processing plant under false pretenses.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, said he received email on the issue from people from "California to Paris."

A bill to criminalize the possession of graffiti tools, meanwhile, was killed earlier in the session. But debate over the measure prompted the group Anonymous to hack the website of the Salt Lake City Police Department in protest of the graffiti paraphernalia legislation, SB107.

The debate over including e-cigarettes and hookah pipes under the state's Clean Air Act ended with a ban of their use in indoor public places. However, the law exempts hookah bars and e-cigarette shops from the ban for five years, when the exemption will sunset.

Drivers will have a few less things to worry about. Car inspections will not be as frequent for newer models, railroad crossing are to be made safer and DUI checkpoints are now prohibited. Lawmakers say the periodic roadblocks are unconstitutional, while critics say doing away with them leaves more drunken drivers on the road.

After 24 accidents among motor vehicles and TRAX trains and two crashes with FrontRunner trains in 2011, lawmakers passed a law clarifying and strengthening laws regarding railroad crossings.

Meanwhile, a bill to clarify the state's open carry law will be addressed during the Legislature's interim because law enforcement and gun rights organizations could not come to agreement.

Drivers, however, could be cited for texting while driving even if they don't send the message. Legislators closed what law enforcement found was a loophole in the no-texting-while-driving law passed last year.

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