House passes electronic billboard measure

SALT LAKE CITY — A House bill approved Tuesday would pave the way for billboards across the state to become electronic.

"I think it's only right that we allow our billboard industry to keep up with changes in technology," said Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, sponsor of HB87.

Electronic billboards have been a hot topic on the Hill. Some cities, particularly Salt Lake City, have seen the measure as an intrusion on their policies. Salt Lake City placed a moratorium on new electronic billboards last year.

Brown said the bill would not preclude cities and counties from managing the number and placement of billboards. It would allow them to set curfews on electronic billboards on surface streets. The state would regulate signs on the freeways.

The bill also spells out how local governments may use eminent domain to remove and relocate billboards, including negotiating placement and setting values with arbitration.

HB87 passed 55-16 without debate. It now goes to the Senate.

— Dennis Romboy

Alcohol, brain damage and headstones

SALT LAKE CITY — Though his attempt to again create more state-issued liquor licenses isn't going anywhere, Rep. Gage Froerer has maintained a sense of humor.

When asked on the House floor if he wanted to bring up his bill that would create more liquor licenses for fine dining clubs, the Ogden Republican said, "I can't convince anyone in the other chamber that economic development is important in this state. I will not waste your time or any further brain damage to myself."

Lacking a Senate sponsor, Froerer opted to not pursue HB142.

As the House GOP caucus considered a list of bills for funding, it came to Froerer's meausure.

"The $16,000, I think, is for the headstone," he said.

— Dennis Romboy

'Immigration consultant' regulations advance in Senate

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a bill to regulate non-attorney "immigration consultants."

Sen. Luz Robles, D-Salt Lake, said she introduced SB144 to address fraud and risk of identity fraud at the hands of unscrupulous "immigration consultants" hired by refugees, undocumented Utahns as well as legal residents to assist with filling out immigration documents.

SB144, which advanced to the Senate's final reading calendar on a vote of 21-5, would require consultants to register with the state Division of Consumer Protection, undergo criminal background checks and post bonds. It also creates a complaint process for people who have been defrauded.

Robles said the bill had been endorsed by Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, The Sutherland Institute and the United Way of Salt Lake.

Senate President Michael Waddoups questioned the need for government regulation in this arena.

"Why should this be the responsibility of the state?" Waddoups said.

Robles said a growing number of people have been taken advantage of by so-called "immigration consultants."

"My biggest concern is identity theft," she said.

According to testimony when the bill was heard in committee earlier this year, immigration consulting services are sometimes offered by one-stop businesses that also sell money orders, prepare taxes and provide translation services.

Attorneys testified that some people attempting to seek legal status have instead ended up in deportation proceedings because of ineffective assistance given by immigration consultants.

— Marjorie Cortez

Bill calls for 90-day 'cooling off period' in divorces

SALT LAKE CITY — Married couples seeking a divorce would have to wait at least three months under a bill the Utah House passed Tuesday.

HB316 establishes a 90-day waiting period between the time divorce papers are filed and a court hearing is held.

Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem, said one of the reasons Utah's divorce rate exceeds the national average is because the state does not have a "cooling off period" for couples to reconsider their actions.

Rep. Lynn Hemingway, D-Salt Lake, opposed the bill, saying it feels like government intrusion into private affairs.

HB316 now goes to the Senate.

— Dennis Romboy

President Waddoups: You have mail

SALT LAKE CITY — What's in Senate President Michael Waddoups' email box?

Oodles of email, as one might imagine. Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, told reporters Tuesday that he opens every email he receives. "It helps me determine where we're going to take the debate," he said.

Recently, Waddoups has been inundated with email on legislation regarding sex education in public schools, e-cigarettes, physician supervision of laser technicians, photography of agricultural operations and gun policy. The latter of which was from "good, down-to-Earth patriots," said Waddoups, a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment.

— Marjorie Cortez

Pledge participation would be voluntary under amended SB223

SALT LAKE CITY — Students would have the option to voluntarily participate in the Pledge of Allegiance each school day under amendments to SB223 passed by the Utah Senate Tuesday.

Earlier this week, the Senate gave preliminary approval to the bill, sponsored by Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan. It would have required students K-12 to take part in the pledge.

Tuesday morning, the Senate approved amendments by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, that would require annual instruction about the pledge. It should explain that participation in the pledge is "voluntary and not compulsory."

Students also should be taught that it is acceptable for "someone not to participate in the pledge of allegiance for religious or other reasons" and students should show respect for any student who chooses not to participate, the amendment stated.

— Marjorie Cortez

Factual innocence amendments advance to Senate

SALT LAKE CITY — The legal director of the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center urged state lawmakers to be mindful of the original intent of the state's factual innocence statute as it contemplates changes to the 2008 law.

Jensie Anderson, also a University of Utah College of Law professor, told members of the Senate Judiciary, Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday that further amendments to the statute could render it "unusable."

"Our hope would you continue to recognize the intent of that statute," said Anderson, during a hearing on HB307.

The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Brad Dee, R-Ogden, would set a standard for a court's determination of factual innocence.

Under the bill's language, the court must determine by clear and convincing evidence that the petitioner did not commit the offenses of which they were convicted and that determination is based on newly discovered material evidence.

The law is intended to give people who maintain they were wrongfully incarcerated to return to court and prove their innocence. The statute was used recently on behalf of Debra Brown, who was freed from prison last year after spending 17 years behind bars for a 1993 murder in Logan.

The Utah Attorney General's Office has since submitted an appeal to the Utah Supreme Court, seeking a reversal of the 2nd District Court decision.

"It does not address any issues pending in the Cache County case," said Scott Reed, criminal justice division chief for the Utah Attorney General's office. However, other cases are pending, he said.

The committee endorsed the bill, sending to the Senate for further consideration.

— Marjorie Cortez

Would voters favor statewide sale tax increase for arts, museum?

SALT LAKE CITY — Voters this fall may be asked whether they would favor a statewide sales tax increase to enhance heritage, culture, arts and museums.

The House narrowly approved a resolution Tuesday to put the question on the 2012 election ballot. Results of the vote would be nonbinding, meaning it would be akin to a public opinion survey.

"This would give us clear information," said Rep. Greg Hughes, R-Draper, sponsor of HJR13.

Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley, opposed the resolution.

"Everytime I've seen a tax increase this is usually how it starts," he said. "I don't think we need a tax increase."

The tax would be equal to the difference between 0.15 percent and the sales and use tax rate imposed by a city or county.

HJR13 now moves to the Senate.

— Dennis Romboy