Bill to restrict teen cell phone use by teen drivers passes Senate

Teen drivers who talk on cell phones could be fined $50 and cited with a class C misdemeanor under a bill passed Tuesday morning by the Utah Senate.

SB128, approved on a vote of 19-9, moves to the House for its consideration.

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, amended the bill to apply strictly to communicating on a wireless device.

The restriction was supported by the Utah PTA, firefighters, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the state of Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice, Romero said.

More important, "parents can help students understand this is the law," Romero said.

But some senators believe there will challenges for law enforcement in citing violators for the activity as a primary offense.

Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, said the state already has laws regulating cell phone use while driving and distracted driving.

"At the end of the day, current law applies to all drivers," Thatcher said. "This says we're going to pull you over for doing nothing. This is not a good law."

Romero said the penalty was reasonable. "The balance clearly goes to public safety," he said.

— Marjorie Cortez

House approves bill allowing early removal from sex offender registry

The House unanimously approved a bill Tuesday allowing some sex offenders to seek early removal from Utah's sex offender registry.

HB13 permits those convicted of unlawful sexual activity with a minor or unlawful sexual conduct with a 16- or 17-year-old to petition the court to be taken off the registry after five years.

Bill sponsor Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, said the measure would provide offenders the opportunity for reformation and redemption.

He told the story of a 19-year-old man who was convicted for having sex with a 15-year-old girl. Now 10 years later, they are married and have four children.

"He cannot take his children to the park. He cannot take his children to parent teacher conference," Draxler said.

Offenders would have to meet certain requirements including not having committed any other crimes, paid restitution and completed court-ordered counseling.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

— Dennis Romboy

Senate kills television service equalization bill

The Utah Senate killed a bill intended to fix the discrepancy in taxes Utahns pay for cable or satellite service for television.

SB112, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, died on a vote of 12-16.

Satellite subscribers pay a 6.25 percent excise tax to the state — but no local franchise fee. Cable subscribers pay a 3.75 percent excise tax to the state plus a franchise fee to their local government. Some local franchise fees are as high as 6 percent, meaning cable customers total tax would be 9.75 percent.

Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, said the bill was an attempt to fix an inequity created by Congress.

"This was an industry that sought special congressional protection for a tax benefit," said Bramble, referring to satellite providers' exemption from local franchise fees.

But other senators opposed the bill saying local governments should work to level the playing field themselves.

"At the end of the day, why is it the state's responsibility to solve this local problem?" said Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said the state did not have the funds to cover a $6.7 million tax credit the policy would require.

"We're literally giving it all up. Is that fair?" he said.

— Marjorie Cortez

House passes air quality task force bill

The House passed a bill Tuesday creating a task force to study the state's air quality.

HB70 sponsor Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake, said it's time to find long-term solutions to a Utah's pollution problems using good science. The state's poor air quality causes health concerns and hurts business, she said.

The task force would comprise eight House members and five senators. Arent said legislation may or may not emerge from the study.

"This is an issue that needs to be addressed," said Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan. "Our efforts to this point have been piecemeal."

The bill, which passed 55-16, now goes to the Senate.

— Dennis Romboy