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Brown denies helping kill weapons bill

Utah House Speaker Mel Brown flatly denied Friday that he killed, or helped kill, a concealed weapons bill that was going to be run by his compatriot, Senate President Lane Beattie.

"I may have tried to defeat it," said Brown, but he would have allowed the bill to be heard in the House if it had passed the Senate.Beattie, R-West Bountiful, pulled the bill from consideration Thursday evening and canceled a public hearing on the matter scheduled for Friday morning.

"I have not seen or read the bill," said Brown. But he added that he had talked with Beattie about the subject three or four times. "I'm on record time and again saying I don't see the need to fix what isn't broken," said Brown. And since there is no real problem with legally permitted people carrying their handguns into schools, businesses or other places, there's no real need to fix anything, said Brown.

Beattie said Thursday evening that he could probably force his bill through the Senate - he has enough pull to do that. But he added it would just die in the House, so why try. Beattie said he may try again next year. Beattie didn't blame Brown, but other senators said Friday that Brown's opposition played a great part in Beattie's decision.

Basically, Beattie's bill would have allowed the owners of private property (he defines that as homes) to keep legally permitted weapons out. Likewise, it would have allowed the operators of churches and administrators of public schools also to be able to ban legally permitted concealed handguns.

Friday, Gov. Mike Leavitt said he was disappointed that Beattie hadn't gone forward with his bill. But the governor added he didn't know what he could do "at this late date" in the 45-day session to get anything passed concerning concealed weapons.

A Deseret News poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates taken before the 1998 session began found that nearly 90 percent of Utahns felt it inappropriate to have concealed weapons in churches and public schools.

Brown, R-Union, said that he has received indications from LDS Church officials that maybe they don't think a law allowing them to keep guns out of churches is necessary. Asked who he had spoken to, Brown said: "I can't tell you that."

A year ago The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement saying that churches were sanctuaries and that no guns, permitted or not, belonged there.

Since more than 80 percent of lawmakers are faithful members of the LDS Church it was assumed - especially after Leavitt asked legislators to act on concealed weapons - that lawmakers would do something.

But nothing was done in the 1997 Legislature and now nothing will be done in this session on concealed weapons.

The latest squabble shows Brown's growing influence in the Legislature, several observers said.

Brown is in his final year of two terms as speaker. He won't say whether he will run for a third, record-setting term for speaker.

Brown is one of only two men who have served two terms as speaker in recent times. The other was former Gov. Norm Bangerter, who sought a second term as speaker in 1982 so that he could be speaker when he ran for governor in 1984.

If Brown runs and wins a third, two-year term as speaker he would be the first to do so in Utah's recent history.

Across the Capitol rotunda, the top leadership post in the Senate - that of president - has now become a long-term affair, with one president serving eight years in the 1980s and his successor serving 10 years in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Brown said anyone should know that he wouldn't have held Beattie's weapons bill, even if he could.

"What sense does it make to hold the president's bill?" he asked. "That wouldn't be very smart" since Beattie, who acts as a one-man sifting committee in the Senate, could in turn hold any of Brown's bills or those of any other House members trying to get measures through to the Senate.

"We agree about some parts" of Beattie's bill, while disagreeing on other parts, said Brown.