Snacking is the great American pastime, and the vending machine is the ubiquitous route to instant gratification.

Vending machines in schools have been a thorny issue for some time, and the 1989 Legislature revived the matter this week with a measure that would return control of vending machine income to schools.The House passed revisions to HB46 on Tuesday removing state strings from vending machine money. Rep. Joseph M. Moody, R-Millard, sponsored the legislation. He told a committee studying the issue that it is a local control matter. Schools should have the option of using the extra income as they see fit, he said. That would include textbooks and supplies if that is seen as a local need.

Rep. H. Craig Moody, R-Salt Lake, tried to amend the measure Tuesday to give school boards oversight over decisions made at the school level. His amendment failed 40-26.

Craig Moody said that lack of district control will allow old abuses of vending machine money to recur. In the past, the income has been used for such things as furniture, jackets for school officials, faculty parties and other activities not directly related to students.

Two years ago, the Legislature passed intent language that suggested schools spend their vending machine profits for textbooks and supplies. The State Board of Education acted on the legislative intent to make it a rule.

If the HB46 changes continue through the legislative process, schools will have free rein to determine how they will spend the money.

School districts have been unhappy with the strings.

"We think we're being discriminated against," said Rex Butterfield, president of Delta High School's student body. "Our vending machines were purchased in the name of the school and we are responsible to keep them filled and for their upkeep. Now we get no benefit."

Butterfield and other students told an Education Committee meeting before Tuesday's House action that they had previously used vending machine income to upgrade landscaping around the school, to buy needed equipment and to finance student trips and other activities.

An unanswered question during the committee meeting was how much profit is generated by vending machines statewide. Estimates ranged up to $6 million - an amount that would be useful in meeting some vital school needs during tough economic times, said Rep. Richard J. Bradford, R-Salt Lake.

However, Granite District, the state's largest with about one-sixth of all the students, earns only an estimated $160,000 per year, said Dr. Riley O'Neil, associate superintendent.

James R. Moss, state superintendent for public instruction, said several districts had been contacted, and the best estimates at the state level are that about $1.2 million in profits are realized from vending machines.

In Salt Lake District, a reversal in the law may open an old contention about what should happen to vending machine money. The income was assigned to food services several years ago because of shortfalls in that area and because of complaints that some schools were making frivolous use of the money.

Ivan Cendese of Highland High argues that principals should be able to use the income from sales for whatever needs that a school has, including underwriting the costs of student activities. He said he would appreciate a source from which he could recoup the money the school loses by granting fee waivers to students who can't afford them.