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Utahns get taste of the pathways of power

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Most of those gathered in the state office building auditorium Monday morning had never been on Capitol Hill before. But by the end of the morning, they were all familiar with the legislative process and knew how to make their voices heard.

Sen. Karen Hale, D-Salt Lake, told the group gathered for Citizens Day — an annual community advocacy forum at the Utah Capitol — that they are the ones "who remind us who we are representing."

Hale said it is common for one person to inspire a legislator to file a bill that could help many people around the state.

Sen. Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park, is sponsoring a bill asking that stillborns be issued birth certificates. That bill was brought to him by someone who "found it very hard to bury a stillborn without a name," Hale said.

Citizens Day is organized by Utah Issues with the purpose of giving Utahns who aren't familiar with the legislative process a chance to see how the Legislature works, meet legislators and be involved, said Utah Issues director Bill Crim.

The event's keynote speaker was former Salt Lake City mayor Ted Wilson, who told the group to "play their strength."

"You are the advocates of the poor, downtrodden and those that need help," Wilson said. "Tell those personal stories. Let the Legislature know what's in your heart, because that's how you win."

Wilson told the group that even the most conservative of legislators would open their hearts and minds to them.

"Personal stories will do the job," he said.

He also encouraged them to be persistent.

"You've got to know every nuance of your bill," he said. "So many things happen up here that you've just got to be vigilant every moment."

Citizens Day was a chance to learn "how the government ticks," said class member Laura Holden, who attends an adult education class in Ogden.

Holden said some people who aren't as educated or as wealthy as others may feel like they don't have a voice. But she said learning how the process works and meeting legislators changed her opinion.

"It makes me feel like they're listening to me," she said.

Participants in the event ranged from students to senior citizens. Crim said they would spend the afternoon tracking their legislators down and talking to them — putting the things they'd learned to work.

E-mail: lculler@desnews.com