SALT LAKE CITY — Public school principals could be subject to $1,000 fines if an education employee association does not have equal access to a Utah public school, under a bill that received preliminary approval in the Utah Senate Monday.

Sen. Mark Madsen, sponsor of SB82, said the bill was intended to address the issue of National Education Association local affiliates being given preferential treatment in some Utah public schools.

For instance, time has been set aside during teacher orientations for NEA affiliates, the Lehi Republican said. Or the affiliates have been given access to teacher mail boxes, he said.

The  American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, has "not been given this kind of access," Madsen said. "The Association of American Educators has likewise been shut out."

SB82 also requires the Utah State Office of Education to establish a registry of education employee associations, including their contact information.

Madsen said similar legislation that passed five years ago to ensure equal access has not been working. This measure provides an enforcement mechanism, which could also include $10,000 civil penalties for individual schools and school districts.

Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights, said she was particularly concerned about leveling fines against school principals individually.

"I think those penalties are extremely excessive," Morgan said.

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, said he, too, was concerned about establishing civil penalities "for a problem I haven't even heard exists."

"It seems to me, if it was a significant problem, we'd hear more concern about it and I haven't heard any," Romero said.

Madsen responded, "I think it's beyond doubt this has happened. Whether or not complaints reached every legislator, the pattern of practice is going on in many schools."

Besides, if there is no problem, "there should be no fear of any enforcement, right?"

The bill, on its second reading in the Senate, advanced on a 19-9 vote.

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