Student transfer bill clear a House hurdle

A bill making it easier for parents to transfer students into different schools passed its first legislative hurdle Friday.

HB349, sponsored by Rep. Julie Fisher, R-Fruit Heights, would extend schools' open enrollment windows, change the definition of when a school is full and make schools post enrollment capacity information and other data online to better inform the public.

The bill also contains provisions to prevent loopholes for coaches to inappropriately recruit students from other schools. It also aims to protect already-full special education or Title I programs, where enrollments are purposely kept small.

"Some school districts are doing open enrollment currently quite well, and it hasn't been an issue," Fisher told the House Education Committee. "But there are some districts that have not done so well."

But Granite Board of Education President Sarah Meier said her district is doing a good job and that the bill could damage staffing efforts — particularly difficult in a teacher shortage. "This is problematic," she said.

The committee approved the bill and sent it to the full House for debate.

Wimmer opposes bill but offers to buy seats

In a confusing gesture, Utah lawmaker Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, offered to buy $1,000 worth of booster seats at a House committee hearing, in lieu of voting for a bill requiring safety seats in vehicles for children up to 8 years old.

Current statutes require safety seats for kids up to 5 years of age.

HB140, sponsored by Rep. Tim Cosgrove, D-Murray, attempts to address an "in-between" stage of child development wherein children are too big for a car seat with integrated restraints but too small to be appropriately protected by adult-size seat belts.

The bill was passed out favorably by the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice standing committee, with Wimmer, who is a police officer and father of two, issuing the sole dissenting vote.

The bill essentially mandates the use of booster seats for children aged 5-8, who are exposed to a higher risk of injury via use of in-car seat belts that don't fit their body size.

Janet Brooks, manager of the Child Advocacy Program at Children's Primary Medical Center, cited statistics from the Utah Highway Patrol that only 24 percent of children five to eight years old are using booster seats. By comparison, almost 95 percent of children under five are in safety seats.

"Compliance is very high in regulated areas," Brooks said. She noted the significantly lower figure for the non-mandated age bracket.

Dr. Jeff Schmidt, president of the Intermountain Pediatric Society, testified that children are "four times less likely to suffer head, spinal cord and abdominal injuries with booster seats." Schmidt noted that internal injuries are common in children involved in accidents who are too small for adult-sized seat belts because restraints contact smaller bodies in the wrong areas for optimum safety.

Delane England, from the Utah Eagle Forum, said that the requirements would be onerous for larger families.

"A mom with three car seats can't go anywhere," England said."We need freedom to live."

Senate makes it tougher to take mayors' powers

Stripping a mayor of his powers won't be too easy under a bill that was passed by the Senate on Friday.

SB20 would force city councils to vote unanimously to strip a mayor of his power. The bill is an attempt to stop councils from taking the mayor's powers "willy nilly," said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper.

"This I think is a high standard that would ensure when those duties are changed, that there is a high threshold on the part of the council and they cannot willy nilly take the powers of the mayor without the mayor's consent," Stephenson said.

Current law allows city councils to strip mayors of their administrative powers without a public vote, but if the council wants to make any changes to the mayor's power, they must either get the mayor's consent or approve the change with a unanimous vote. The bill would require a public vote on any such changes.

House approves tax cut for some self-employed

The House voted Friday for an $18 million tax cut for self-employed Utahns who buy their own health insurance.

HB351 by Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, is reflected in an overall health care reform bill, HB133, which has already passed the House. If something should happen to HB133, at least the tax cut would go forward.

"This achieves some fairness in the tax code," Dunnigan said. "It will help some afford health insurance, and it may take some Utahns off of the uninsured rolls."

Currently, if health care insurance cost is taken out of paychecks by employers, it is pre-tax dollars. But self-insured Utahns pay state income tax first on the money they then spend on health insurance premiums. Saving those self-employed Utahns 5 percent (the statewide personal income tax rate) on those premiums could add up to a $900 annual savings for some self-employed Utahns, Dunnigan said.