Legislative leaders and Olympics backers are calling the nearly unanimous approval of three Olympics-related bills in Tuesday's special session a strong endorsement of the state's quest for the 1998 Winter Olympics.

The measures, which met with little controversy except for 45 minutes of debate over wording of November's non-binding Olympics referendum, constitute an Olympics legislative package organizers wanted passed before November's polling.The first measure, which passed the House 70-1 and the Senate 26-0, establishes a procedure for polling Utahns on the Olympics question without having to embark on a statewide petition drive.

Previously, there was no means of questioning voters on issues except through the petition-initiative process, which was used last year in a bid to cut taxes via three initiatives. This year's polling will cost the state $125,000.

The second measure, passed 67-2 in the House and 23-3 in the Senate, spells out the wording that will appear on ballots Nov. 7.

Finally, the Utah Sports Authority won approval from both bodies on a 71-0 vote in the House and a 26-1 vote in the Senate. The Senate amended the authority bill, restricting the governor to removing authority board members only with specific cause. The amended bill passed the House 70-0.

"I think that it is a real endorsement," said Utah House Speaker Nolan Karras, R-Roy, sponsor of all three measures.

"I'm obviously pleased with the results, and I think with the message this sends out to the community," said Tom Welch, head of the Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee.

Olympic endorsements started early in the special session when Gov. Norm Bangerter addressed both houses and encouraged them to support the Olympic measures.

Addressing concerns over dedicating $56 million in public money to build a bobsled-luge run, speed-skating rink and ski jump, Bangerter said the money is a "modest amount of sales tax that will pay heavy dividends."

On the House floor, Karras revealed the results of a poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates for Bangerter. Sixty-six percent favored a Utah Games, while 61 percent favored diverting sales tax dollars for the Games, Karras said the poll found.

The sports authority bill establishes a 15-member authority board and a 15-member oversight board, both appointed by the governor. The authority board would exercise significant control over Welch's organizing committee.

The organizing committee must submit budgets, operating plans, contracts and other plans to the scrutiny of the authority. The bill also requires the committee to draft a repayment plan for public money.

"It's a tough bill," Welch acknowledged, "but I think it needs to be. If we're going to maintain the public's confidence, they need to be assured there will be the scrutiny of the authority."

Not everyone was pleased with the measure. Sen. Richard Tempest, R-Salt Lake, voted against the bill, saying winter sports have little importance when compared to the education needs of Utah children.

"It's more important for my children to have the education they deserve," he said of organizers' plans to use $56 million in public money for Olympic facilities.

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(Additional information)

Ballot wording approved by Utah Legislature:

(1) In June 1989, the United States Olympic Committee selected Salt Lake City as the United States city to bid for the International Winter Olympics in 1998 and 2002.

(2) The United States Olympic Committee's selection of Salt Lake City as the United States' bid city for the 1998 and 2002 International Winter Olympic Games is contingent upon the construction of certain Olympics facilities before the International Olympic Committee awards the bid for those Winter Olympic Games.

(3) In order to construct those facilities, the Legislature has dedicated 1/32 of one cent from the existing sales tax rates to build certain Olympic facilities, including bobsled and luge runs, a speed-skating oval and ski jumps.

(4) It is the intent of the Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee to completely repay the state for monies expended by the state if revenues generated by the Olympic Games are adequate.

(5) The Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee and Salt Lake City have agreed that no events connected with the 1998 or 2002 International Olympic Games will be held in Big Cottonwood Canyon or in Little Cottonwood Canyon because of environmental concerns.

(6) Based upon the items listed above, the Legislature and the governor have affirmed their commitment to Utah's hosting of the Winter Games and hereby submit to the voters of Utah for their opinion the following question:

Should Utah continue its efforts to host the Winter Olympic Games?

Yes

No