Wednesday, December 26, 2007

the legislators are coming

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas, Happy Kawanzaa, etc. That big storm on Christmas Eve tweaked my Christmas plans and led to family tensions, but I guess that is part of the holidays too.

Anyway, on to the subject of this post. Every January and February, the legislature arrives from all 6 corners of the state to pass new laws and budgets. Now that the renovation of the capitol building is nearly complete, they are ready to tackle some big and small topics.

Even in Utah, Mark Twain is right that "In the West, whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting."
HB51 would give municipalities and public water suppliers the ability to keep unused water rights for up to three decades.
Doing so would raise the ire of farmers and ranchers, who have to fight to keep their unused water rights every five years. Why, they ask, shouldn't cities and water districts be held to the same standard?
Under current law, if any water right has not been tapped for five years, it must be forfeited and put to good use. Those holding those rights, whether they be cities, districts or individuals, generally can keep them - if they periodically apply to the state water engineer.
City officials and water suppliers want to hold on to those rights for at least 30 years.
That way, they can plan for future growth without taking a chance that their five-year applications could be denied - particularly if water supplies decline.
Farmers, in the proposed bill, would be required to reapply more often - every seven years.
This bill should be an interesting one to watch, as it will pit rural Utahns against their formerly rural brethren in places like St. George. Even if I wasn't in a strictly non-political job, I wouldn't touch this debate with a ten foot pole.

Next up, the small: a culture war issue.
Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, is drafting a bill that would require the display of the American flag and a copy of the Declaration of Independence in every public school classroom in Utah.

"This started off because a friend of mind did a little bit of research on college campuses and he couldn't find anybody who could tell him what the Constitution was, let alone what was in it — and these were college students," Christensen said.


The bill does not require the Constitution be displayed in classrooms, but Christensen said he might add that provision, and maybe the Bill of Rights, to the bill's requirements.


Many schools have a "freedom shrine" of historically significant documents. State law requires elementary students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily, though parents can excuse children from the exercise. Secondary schools are encouraged to do so weekly; the Granite Board of Education, for one, requires as much.

State law also requires schools to post the national motto, "In God We Trust." Several school districts received donations to buy framed depictions of the phrase; Christensen believes a similar outpouring would follow his bill.

The state core curriculum also includes flag education for elementary students and U.S. history and civics for older children.
Does putting up the U.S. Constitution (and the Bill of Rights), "In God We Trust," the pledge of allegiance, and U.S. flag provide civics lessons? Personally, I think if Sen. Christensen's goal is to create a more educated and civic-minded generation of Utahns, he would be better off requiring more civics in lesson plans at the primary and secondary education levels.

When I taught law at East High last spring, most of the kids had no idea about their 4th Amendment rights (let alone their article 1, section 14 rights), nor what the 1st Amendment meant for them. They all knew some basics about the branches of government, but didn't know about committees (especially the Rules Committee), amendments, and conference committee. Now I don't remember a "In God We Trust," a constitution, or a flag in the room, but there are plenty of flags all over the school and on every big building near East High, and I really doubt either would have been of that much help. My co-teacher (a fellow law student who was once my boss when I interned for Jim Matheson) and I handed out constitutions for everyone, but I doubt they read those. And those constitutions had a much better chance of being glanced at than one mounted on the wall.

Now the legislature has blunt instruments to implement solutions to complex problems like "why don't our kids are about democracy anymore?" But like I said, curriculum-based civics is going to be much more effective than display-based civics.

On a final note, as a Jazz fan, I say who cares and good riddance to whiny baby Gordan Giricek. This guy loved being a star on a barely make the playoffs team, and hates it that he is now a bench player due to all of the new talent on the Jazz in the last few years. Suck it up and try to win the 6th Man of the Year award, don't just sulk.

1 comment:

Misty Fowler said...

This is one of those things that sounds like it might be a good idea, but do we really need a law for it? Why not get the message out to teachers that this would be a good idea, and let the teachers be in charge of it? If I were a lawmaker, I think I'd vote against this, even though I agree with it, in principle.