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A hobby farmer with three head of cattle is forcing the state to reorganize the private nonprofit Utah Beef Council because he says the fees he pays are requiring him to unconstitutionally support political speech.

SALT LAKE CITY — A hobby farmer with three head of cattle is forcing the state to reorganize the private nonprofit Utah Beef Council because he says the fees he pays are requiring him to unconstitutionally support political speech.

For years, ranchers have paid 50 cents a head each time cattle are sold. That money goes to the Utah Beef Council, a private nonprofit entity that runs advertising campaigns and is made up primarily of members of the Utah Cattlemen's Association.

The arrangement with the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food required the rancher to be associated with the Utah Beef Council, a private entity that engaged in political and promotional speech, said Nicole Hanna with the Utah Attorney General's Office.

Hanna told members of the Retirement and Independent Entities Committee Friday that guidance from federal court, where the rancher's lawsuit is pending, indicates there is only a "small" likelihood the state would prevail in the case. She said the rancher has been willing to hold off pending a legislative solution to the issue.

A legislative analysis, too, shows the beef promotion statute is unconstitutional and both State Auditor John Dougall and State Treasurer David Damschen agree.

"We're dealing with public funds. The exemption from the state money management act is improper," Damschen said.

Added Dougall, "Clearly, a change needs to take place."

Hanna said the constitutional nature of the lawsuit would open the state up to more litigation which could cost Utah, conservatively, $1 million.

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Commissioner LuAnn Adams, who was personally named in the suit, said the issue needs to be fixed to ward off further legal vulnerability.

The recommendation before the legislative committee was to move ahead with the reorganization of the Utah Beef Council into a quasi-governmental entity so it is in the position to take money and engage in promotional activities — much like the Utah Dairy Commission.

Rep. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, is running HB432 to make that transformation, which includes modifications to the membership of the Utah Beef Council.