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UTAHNS AREN’T JAMMING PHONE LINES WITH CALLS ON HEALTH-CARE, CRIME BILLS

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While Congress is locked in two of its biggest legislative fights in years, Utahns may not care much - judging from their letters and calls, or lack of them.

"It's been very light," said Evette Reiss, spokeswoman for Rep. Karen Shepherd, D-Utah, about letters and calls to her boss on crime and health-care reform bills.Other members of Utah's delegation generally agree. But they say those who do write or call are overwhelmingly opposed to both bills - but not necessarily for the reasons expected.

Such small volume comes even though both sides - and President Clinton himself - have held constant press conferences and speeches calling for their supporters to flood Congress with calls.

"We've had about 80 calls in the last few days on the crime bill. But every one of them were opposed to it," said Joel Lawson, spokesman for Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah - who is still undecided on that bill.

Mary Jane Collipriest, press secretary to Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, said, "In terms of volume, it's not nearly as dramatic as, say, the president's budget last year" - when many offices literally could not put a phone down without it ringing again.

Still, the office of Bennett - who opposes both bills - is the only one receiving "above average" numbers of calls, but just on the crime bill. The number of health-care calls are only average.

"We haven't had that many calls," said Nancee Blockinger, administrative assistant to Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah. "About 90 percent of the calls on the crime bill are against it. Most people are against the health-care bill, too."

Paul Smith, press secretary to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said most callers also oppose the crime bill because it would ban several semi-automatic "assault weap-ons."

That is somewhat surprising because most critics have attacked the bill instead for spending hundreds of millions in "pork" for social programs to prevent crime.

"About 60 percent of the calls oppose it because of the assault-weapon ban," Smith said. Other offices also report the lion's share of crime-bill opposition - up to 80 percent - comes because of the assault-weapon ban.

Word from the lawmakers' offices is that opposition to health-care reform is also strong, but no one reason for that stands out. "They seem confused by it," Blockinger said.

Reiss - whose boss, Shepherd, supports the crime and health-care bills - said much of the opposition may come from organized groups such as the National Rifle Association or the health-care industry urging members to call.

"One ran an ad urging people to call a toll-free number and then they would be transferred to their member of Congress," Reiss said. "But they often transferred them to the wrong people. You would finish talking to someone and ask where they were from, and they would say Provo" instead of Shepherd's Salt Lake County district.

She added that despite such calls to Shepherd, "She knows from walking door-to-door in her district that health care is a high priority with her constituents, and she will work to provide that."

Even though calls have been light, pressure from political leaders and lobbyists has been strong.

"People may not care much right now for whatever reason - maybe because it's summer or they are on vacation. But health providers are in and in and in to talk about it," Blockinger said.