One person can make a difference in the political process. At least that's what high school civics teachers are fond of telling their students.

But should one man - particularly one not elected by the people - be permitted to scuttle legislation that would benefit the entire state?Commercial fossil collector Robert Harris, Delta, has successfully torpedoed a bill that would have clarified the state's laws protecting archaeological and fossil resources. Few besides Harris, however, are opposed to the bill.

"We deal with a lot of do-nothing bills up here. But this one was really a good one," said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Brigham City, the sponsor of HB89.

"It's an irrational response to an excellent bill," said Joel Janetski, curator of the Museum of Peoples and Cultures at Brigham Young University.

"It was, it is a good bill. Everyone who's read the bill is happy with the bill," said Dotti Mortensen of the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.

Ironically, Harris - one of three commercial fossil collectors in the state - is opposed to the measure, despite the fact the bill would make it easier on commercial collectors, not more difficult.

"I haven't read the bill in its final form," Harris admits. And attempts by state officials to explain the bill to Harris have not changed his mind.

Harris has had a long-running beef with certain state officials. In fact, threatened lawsuits and counterthreats are a standard order of business with Harris and Division of State History. And Harris sees the legislation - any legislation - as a not-so-subtle move to put him out of the business of collecting fossils.

"That law was drafted by institutional people with no concept of multiple use of public lands," said Harris, who mines trilobites from a quarry leased from the Division of State Lands.

"I see it as nothing more than a big stick to put an end to commercial fossil collecting. Maybe I'm just paranoid . . . but they have been trying to put me out of business for a long time."

"I see it as nothing more than a big stick to put an end to commercial fossil collecting. Maybe I'm just paranoid . . . but they have been trying to put me out of business for a long time."

What HB89 actually does has nothing to do with eliminating commercial collectors. Instead, it establishes uniform procedures for archaeologists and paleontologists to excavate and study artifacts and fossils on state lands. It clearly designates how permits for excavation will be issued, how those artifacts will be cared for and it clears up confusing wording in antiquities laws.

And it beefs up the penalties against those who vandalize, steal or destroy irreplaceable prehistoric resources, bringing state laws more into line with federal laws.

"We saw a lot of fuzziness in the wording of the law," said Janetski, who was also chairman of the Antiquities Advisory Committee, which helped draft the legislation. "And the intent of this piece of legislation was to preserve the state's resources with a clearly worded law."

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Under existing state law, it is illegal for anyone to destroy or remove fossils from the state without a permit from the Division of State History. And Harris is required by law to get those permits.

But under HB89, Harris would not need those permits from State History unless the fossils he collects are considered "critical paleontological resources." Even then, the permits would be no different than what he has now.

"It would not have prohibited commercial collecting. We were very specific that commercial collectors were outside the provisions of the bill," added John Fellows of the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel.

The bill was the result of a year-long interim study by the State and Local Affairs Committee and the Antiquities Advisory Committee, a collection of Utah professionals. The bill has the enthusiastic support of Utah amateur and professional archaeological and paleontology organizations.

But it doesn't have the support of Robert Harris. Rep. Joseph Moody, R-Delta, and Sen. Cary Peterson, R-Nephi, have sided with Harris on the issue, though they both say if Harris will agree to the bill, they will not oppose it. Harris is, after all, their constituent and they must protect his interests.

But Harris won't compromise. He demands nothing short of the elimination of the position of state paleontologist and the removal of fossil collecting from under the jurisdiction of the Division of History.

The result: HB89 is denied a chance to fight in the Legislature on its own merits. And the state as a whole is worse off because of it.

High school civics teachers are right: One person can make a difference in the political process. For right or wrong.