Tom Smart, Deseret News
Speaker Rebecca D. Lockhart, left, and House Majority leader Brad L. Dee, right, listen to Majority Whip Gregory H. Hughes speak during the republican house caucus meeting, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah House Republicans had what was described as an emotional private discussion Tuesday about how lawmakers should respond to last week's deadly school shootings in Connecticut.

The issue of how to protect children in the wake of the shootings was raised during the majority party caucus' daylong meeting behind closed doors to gear up for the 2013 Legislature, set to start in late January.

“It's a very tender subject with a lot of reverence to it,” said House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden. He said he talked about “making sure we don't begin to point fingers and discuss symptoms as much as we deal with the problem.”

That problem, Dee said, “runs deeper than any one subject that somebody might bring up at this time. It runs the gamut from mental health situations to where our nation is going.”

The majority leader said the caucus took no positions on the issue, becoming emotional as he told reporters lawmakers would “support any measure that would preclude this horrific incident from ever happening again.”

But Dee and other House leaders said it was too soon to talk specifics.

House Majority Whip Greg Hughes, R-Draper, said the caucus is “very sensitive to not politicize this. … There is sense of reverence, a sense of caution in terms of how we would approach any of the suggestions or any of the issues we may be confronted with.”

House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, said the issue of children's safety was discussed only in a broad context Tuesday, but the caucus will “think about this very methodically and seriously” in the days to come.

“I don't think there are words to describe the kinds of emotions and the kinds of feelings people have about this situation,” Lockhart said. “But we want to have the reverence and the respect for the families and everyone who's been affected by this.”

House Majority Assistant Whip Don Ipson, R-St. George, said the shootings are resonating “because no one can get their arms around the fact that someone would kill 20 children. … There's no way for us several days later to go into a group of people and say, 'How in the world do we fix this?' … It's a huge issue.”

Dee said the only position taken on any issue during the caucus was against a mandatory helmet law for motorcycle riders expected to be introduced next session.

The caucus talked only briefly about a Senate proposal to restore sales tax on food, the majority leader said, agreeing only to discuss the issue further.

Lockhart has opposed restoring sales tax on food, calling it a tax shift that will hurt Utahns struggling to make ends meet.

Much of the discussion Tuesday focused on the impact of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, on the state, Dee said.

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