House Majority Leader Chris Fox has stepped down as co-chairwoman of the state's Electrical Deregulation Task Force to "avoid even the appearance" of a conflict of interest. She will remain a task force member.

Last month the Deseret News reported that Fox, a widow for 10 years, was dating former state Sen. Fred Finlinson, who was widowed this year.Finlinson and Fox work at the same law firm, where Finlinson represents two large power consumers - Intermountain Health Care and the Central Valley Water Reclamation Facility Board - and has testified before the task force.

Fellow legislators stood behind Fox, saying she was a trusted and valued colleague. However, several told the newspaper they were concerned about the appearance of the task force chairwoman dating a lobbyist working on the electrical deregulation issue.

"To avoid the very appearance of conflict (of interest), I thought it best that I step aside," Fox said Tuesday. "The work of the task force this year is basically completed." The task force, made up of 12 House and Senate members, only has one or two more meetings.

Fox said she hopes that a deregulation bill will be introduced in the 1998 Legislature, but that hasn't yet been decided. "At present, I don't plan to sponsor" an electrical deregulation bill. "But I will continue to be active (in the process). A number of people have talked to me about the issue and I'm well versed in it," she said.

She added it was difficult for her children to have "my personal life played out on the front pages (of the newspapers.) I didn't do anything to warrant that."