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LEGISLATORS PLUNGE INTO MORAL ISSUES

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Legislating morality is akin to bailing a sinking boat with a paper cup: It can be done, but it won't be easy.

That fact has not deterred Utah lawmakers from divvying up the Dixie cups and diving head-long into moral issues ranging from toughening Utah's abortion law to allowing a moment of silence in public schools to banning public nudity and preventing gays and lesbians from organizing extracurricular clubs in public schools and raising taxes on cigarettes."Obviously there is a moral tone to the Legislature, and I don't try to deny that," said Sen. Craig Taylor, R-Kaysville and the sponsor of two pieces of morals legislation.

"There is nothing wrong with that. We have already legislated into statute the teaching of moral values in public schools, and there is ample historical support for teaching (and legislating) morals."

Taylor is not alone in pursuing a moral agenda. About two dozen different lawmakers have sponsored or co-sponsored bills that could be considered morals legislation. And legislators have yet to kill any significant piece of morals legislation. Consider:

- Two bills to further restrict abortions have passed House committees and await action on the House floor. The Senate has yet to consider either measure.

- HB20, a bill to allow a moment of silence at the beginning of each school day, has passed the House and has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee for further debate.

- SB246, sponsored by Taylor, a bill that would prohibit schools from advocating illegal activities such as homosexual behavior, was introduced in the Senate Tuesday, but the language has yet to be drafted. The bill is one measure that targets the formation of gay and lesbian clubs at public schools.

- SB227, a bill that would ban all displays of public nudity, was also introduced Tuesday and has yet to be assigned to a committee for pub-lic debate.

- HB43, the cigarette tax increase, is currently awaiting debate on the House floor. If it passes there, it must still pass the Senate.

One new group on Capitol Hill espousing public morals is Utah Citizens for Positive Community Values, which convinced Taylor to carry two pieces of legislation drafted by the group, one to make drug dealers civilly liable for injuries caused by the drugs they sell and the other to ban all displays of public nudity.

"I looked over the bills and was very interested in sponsoring them," Taylor said. "I agreed with what they were trying to do. They are a value-oriented group with strong, moral people."

The drug dealer liability act, pattered after statutes in Michigan, Oklahoma and Hawaii, has already passed the Senate with little opposition. More controversial will be Taylor's attempt to ban all public nudity.

Taylor said the bill is clearly targeted at nude dance clubs that have flourished in South Salt Lake. Lawmakers would have few qualms passing restrictions on that, but the bill allows no exceptions. None for art classes at universities or for theater or dance productions.

"It may require that they only be partially nude," Taylor said. "If someone came into the Capitol Theater to do a production (that had nudity) they would have to comply with the law."

How would that affect art classes? R.D. Wilson, chairman of the University of Utah's art department, said making models in the drawing and painting classes wear tights would be "humiliating, laughable."

"I understand that people have different views, but students don't take our classes to get excited," he said. "They get frustrated if they can't draw the figure better, or they just get bored."

At Brigham Young University, because it's owned by the LDS Church, models must wear clothes - bathing suits or other attire. "We (at the U.) have become the traditional alternative. We have a very strong drawing/painting program here, and we are known for this across the country," said Wilson.

If nude models weren't allowed, "it would really harm our credibility nationally - a degree (from the U.) may be worth less," he added.

Based on a U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld an Indiana law that banned public nudity, Taylor says the Utah law could withstand a legal challenge as well. The court, he said, ruled that governments do have an interest in protecting public morality.

Former U.S. Attorney for Utah Brent Ward, who is on the executive board of Utah Citizens for Positive Community Values, says the Indiana statute doesn't make exceptions either. But the elements that have to be proved in a criminal case make it such that it would not be feasible to prosecute art classes or serious theater or dance productions. "Not only would prosecutions be unlikely, they would be impossible," he said.

Taylor emphasized he is not a member of Utah Citizens for Positive Community Values but is willingly supporting their agenda on Capitol Hill. The group's board of directors includes Tom Young of Young Electric Sign Co., Darlene Hutchinson of the public affairs department for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Dee Rowland with the Catholic Church, Richard Alsop of Bonneville International and Wm. JamesMortimer, publisher of the Deseret News.

The group organized about 10 years ago to combat "the proliferation of obscenity," in particular pornography, Ward said. This is the first year the group has attempted legislation.