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Utah Legislature: School-bus ads supported by public; bill dies in House

Published: Monday, March 1 2010 12:00 a.m. MST

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SALT LAKE CITY — While a school-bus advertising bill failed in the House Education Committee Friday night, public opinion supports the idea.

Rep. Jim Bird, R-West Jordan, who sponsored HB393, wants to help school districts earn some cash. He says while obviously the type of advertisements would have to be strictly regulated, money-strapped districts could rake in some dough.

The lawmaker says he won't try and bring the bill back this year. He isn't sure about next year. "I'm disappointed," Bird told the Deseret News after the committee vote. "But there are some problems we need to address."

Meanwhile, a Dan Jones & Associates Poll for the Deseret News and KSL-TV revealed 65 percent of those polled believe advertising definitely or probably should be allowed on the sides of school buses. A total of 29 percent believe it probably or definitely should not be allowed. The poll involving 410 people was conducted on Feb. 17 and 18 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

A district could earn an average of $750 to $1,500 per bus through advertising.

However, Kim Campbell, president of the Utah Education Association, said, "Is this the way we want to fund public schools?"

HB393 would require the ads be age appropriate and not promote anything illegal for minors, including alcohol, tobacco, drugs or gambling. The ads would be forbidden from containing sexual material.

Maryann Christensen, of the Utah Eagle Forum, said any advertisement on the side of a school bus would appear to be an endorsement by the school or district. She is concerned about ads, such as those by Planned Parenthood, or selling energy drinks, caffeinated soda pop or video games, plus ads touting questionable radio stations or TV shows. "There are so many ways that this type of advertising is not appropriate for our school buses," Christensen said.

Lawmakers pointed out school boards would use common sense in this area.

However, even G-rated advertising may not pass the test simply because of commercialization, said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay.

Moss said she can just see the children's little faces peering out the bus windows above advertisements for fast food restaurants and toy stores. "They're all around these images anyway," she said. "Is there nothing sacred?"

Other lawmakers pointed out advertising on the buses could be a distraction to other drivers.

Rep. Craig Frank, R-Cedar Hills, said he had heartburn over the bill. "I think this is a step in the wrong direction," he said, explaining he feels it is allowing public entities to do what the private sector is responsible for. "How is this the proper role of government?" Frank said.

Committee chairman Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said he feels there are "serious constitutional issues" with the bill, and legislative research officials would have to delve into different aspects of it. "We've got a long road," he said.

The impetus for the bill came from the cash-strapped Jordan School District, but the plan could benefit any district in the state — all of which are suffering from revenue shortages and implementing budget cuts.

"This was a good opportunity to supplement the incomes of some of these districts that are struggling," Bird said.

Jordan District is especially financially beleaguered due to the east-side voter initiated split with Canyons District. The district is facing a $30 million deficit and could be eliminating 500 jobs.

Go to le.utah.gov/~2010/bills/hbillint/hb0393.htm to view the bill.

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