Lawmakers, LDS Church brainstorm

Published: Saturday, Jan. 19 2008 12:44 a.m. MST

"We said we understand some of what Romney is seeing, and how his religion is being treated," Litvack said. "And we told (church leaders) this also applies to us — as some Democratic members of the LDS Church are told they can't be good Democrats and good Mormons at the same time." Religious intolerance works both ways, he said.

"As Mitt has been treated unfair, targeted" for being Mormon, so too have some LDS Democratic candidates been targeted in Utah as somehow unworthy of election, he added. "And it is not fair to bring religion into our own campaigns here. I hope people remember this" in Utah local elections later this year.

The church leaders also said they would come out in favor of taking soda-colored, 3.2-percent alcoholic beverages out of grocery stores and putting them into state-operated liquor stores. The church released a statement on that Thursday. Litvack laughed when asked if he thought such alcohol regulations would pass the Legislature, where 80 percent of lawmakers are members of the LDS Church. "Yeah, we'll see on that one."

Clark said church leaders reasoned that any beverage made through distilling liquor should be sold in state liquor stores, distributed by the state to licensed restaurants and private clubs. This new soda-looking 3.2 beverage is distilled, he said. "It is actually a continuation of how we've handled liquor in Utah for some time" — brewed 3.2 percent beverages, such as beer, are sold in grocery stores; wines and distilled liquors, no matter what their alcohol content, are sold in state liquor stores.

Clark, who is sponsoring what's been called a first-step health-care reform bill this session, said church leaders were also interested in that subject. The LDS Church "insures a lot of lives in Utah and elsewhere." Deseret Mutual Benefit Association is the church's main health insurance firm, which also provides insurance for Deseret Morning News employees.

Clark's bill was not public when he met with church officials, so they could not endorse a specific bill, he said. But Clark said they supported his bill's two main concepts — trying to slow down rising health-care costs and beginning to address the needs of 300,000 Utahns who have no health insurance.

Finally, Litvack and Clark said the LDS Church leaders were very concerned about the meth drug crisis in Utah and beyond.

"They are concerned about this problem among their own church members" and how the drug's use is ruining lives and breaking up families, Litvack said.

Clark said the leaders, from the perspective of training their own lay congregation leaders, want to become more involved in seeking solutions to addictive drug problems.

Litvack said he's been active in the past on meth legislation but this year is turning it over to Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, and will help from the sidelines.

Litvack expects legislation aimed at helping local county health departments deal with meth-lab houses, where the drug is cooked.

"These cook houses are very expensive to clean up, a real health hazard. There are also the houses where meth is routinely used — not as serious as the cook houses but still a problem," he said.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com; dbulkeley@desnews.com

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