Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
Gov. Gary R. Herbert speaks at a press conference announcing housing stimulus mortgages in front of a home that is for sale in Salt Lake City on Monday, April 2, 2012.

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert indicated Thursday he may call lawmakers into special session to put a new assessment test for high school students in place before classes start this fall.

The governor said during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7 that dealing with what he called a shortage of restaurant liquor licenses could also be added to the agenda he sets for a special session.

"I think there's a growing awareness that we need to make sure our liquor licenses line up with the demands," Herbert said, particularly from national restaurant chains seeking to open outlets in Utah.

"Part of that is because we're a fast-growing economy. There's a lot of people that want to come to Utah," he said. "Certainly those involved in the restaurant and food business are part of that growth."

He said that doesn't have to mean increasing the number of liquor licenses available under the state's quota system. For example, a business could be allowed to sell liquor at multiple outlets under a single license, the governor said.

Lawmakers heard testimony last week that several restaurant chains are waiting to open in Utah because of the lack of liquor licenses. Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, said he expects to introduce a proposal at next month's interim meeting that will boost the number of licenses available without jeopardizing public safety.

The governor said the liquor license issue hasn't risen to "a sky-is-falling urgency" but could be added to a special session agenda. If not, he said, it needs to be addressed by the 2013 Legislature.

The testing issue is more pressing because the state has dropped the Utah Basic Skills and Competency Test.

"In some form or fashion, we need to address that issue, and that should happen hopefully before the start of the next school year," Herbert said.

A bill dealing with the testing issue failed in the final hours of the 2012 Legislature, apparently over concerns the tests were related to the controversial "Common Core" program, which involves a coalition of states developing a set of mathematics and language arts benchmarks for public education.

Herbert said adopting the ACT or another test to assess high school students "has absolutely nothing to do with Common Core. I know they're sometimes connected, for whatever reasons, I’m not certain."

Opponents of Utah’s participation in the Common Core program are also leery of Utah’s adoption of a national assessment test. Educators said the program and the test are unrelated.

State Deputy Superintendent Martell Menlove said legislation passed two years ago now requires lawmakers to come up with money for the acquisition of a new test to assess career- and college-readiness or allow the state to revert back to the basic skills test.

Menlove said the State Office of Education already has a pilot program in place using the ACT, which could have been extended statewide under the bill that failed last session. That bill would also have provided some $2 million in funding.

Herbert said adjusting the education budget to account for a $25 million miscalculation can wait until the 2013 Legislature if House and Senate leaders can't agree on how to handle the shortfall.

"Those moneys are in the budget," the governor said. "We just need to reallocate them appropriately. There will be no loss of any programs in schools, no impact on teachers and classrooms and students."

Contributing: Ben Wood

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