High school acedemic fees may be banned

Parents of high school students could be getting a big break under a legislative measure that takes aim at killing school fees related to academic classes.

HB163, sponsored by Rep. Craig Frank, R-Pleasant Grove, would prohibit course fees, rental and use fees and textbook fees, while fees for clubs, sports and extracurricular activities would still stand.

Frank said statewide, secondary schools collected $13.1 million from academic fees related to classes that are necessary for graduation or count for credit towards graduation. He is asking for $13.1 million in state money in lieu of student fees.

"We have constitutionally guaranteed a free education, and this will help to make our public education conform to our state Constitution," Frank said. "Fees related to academic classes that are required for graduation should actually be part of our tax base, not a substantial hit in some cases to parents of secondary education students."

Panel takes no action on school-hazing bill

Lawmakers put a bill on hold Wednesday that would require school districts to craft bullying and hazing policies.

While most agreed it was a good idea in theory, the House Education Committee took no action because some lawmakers were concerned with bullying definitions like "embarrassing" a student. They were also worried that it could result in students being punished for harmless teasing.

But the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, said that the requirements in the bill for districts to create or alter policies on bullying were drawn from legislation in other states. Local school leaders would be able to create their own policies.

"Those who oppose this fear that somehow we will be putting laws in place that will somehow punish people for minor infractions, calling names or something," Moss said. "But in fact all this does is direct the State Office to direct school to alter their policies on bullying, hazing and cyber bullying."

Seat-belt legislation dies this year, too

The sponsor of Utah's perennial primary seat-belt bill has decided to pull the measure from debate this session, instead waiting until next year for possible action.

Rep. Richard Greenwood, R-Roy, said he is dropping HB87 because of a delay in the House Rules Committee and also because of a lack of support from representatives.

It's frustrating, he said, but even more, a sore spot with House leadership. He said he was asked to prioritize his bills, and he set the seat-belt bill as a top priority. Yet, the bill has been held in Rules since the start of the session.

"Even if I do not care for the issue, it doesn't mean it should be stifled," said Greenwood.

Under HB87, a motorist age 19 and older could be ticketed just for not wearing a seat belt — a primary offense. Current law makes not wearing a seat belt a secondary offense, so a person can only be ticketed if they commit some other violation first.

Last year, the seat-belt measure was approved by the Senate but died in the House on the last night of the legislative session.

Dating-violence bill clears House committee

Victims of dating violence would be granted the right to file for protective orders in a bill passed by a House committee on Wednesday.

Current law makes protective orders applicable only to spouses and cohabitants who are victims of domestic violence.

Vigorous debate accompanied the hearing of HB247, sponsored by House Minority Whip David Litvack, D-West Valley, who characterized his legislation as addressing "a significant problem in our society."

"Dating violence is very similar to domestic violence," Litvack said. "Current protective orders are only obtainable through cohabitant definitions ... but do not provide the same protections" for dating relationships. Litvack's proposal extended these rights to victims age 16 and older.

Gayle Ruzicka, president of the pro-family group, Utah Eagle Forum, testified at the hearing that courts issue protective orders "frivolously" and that they should not extend to teenagers.

Health-care overhaul advances to the Senate

A bill that is the form and foundation of a multiyear renovation of the state's health-care system was approved Wednesday afternoon by unanimous vote and now moves on to the full Senate.

Committee review of HB133, which was approved unanimously by the House last week, was pretty much a formality on the way to becoming law. The omnibus bill outlines a general approach to trying to keep the cost of health care from eating the state economy in the next few years.

Now is the last, best chance to really make some practical, meaningful and lasting changes, Clark told committee members, noting that the health-care fix-it plans that precede HB133 were well-intentioned and crafted but lacked something this one doesn't: Pain.