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Ex-state health worker is suing 2 lawmakers

SHARE Ex-state health worker is suing 2 lawmakers

A former employee of the state Department of Health has filed a lawsuit against two Washington County lawmakers, accusing them of using their positions to get him fired after he conducted an inspection of southern Utah swimming pools.

The suit, filed by Ronald Rex Ivie in 3rd District Court last week, accuses Sen. Bill Hickman and Rep. Stephen Urquhart, both R-St. George, of violating a state employee-protection law by threatening to cut funding to the health department if Ivie was not fired.

The suit says Ivie's inspection found the Southwest District Health Department was not enforcing state rules on the design, construction and operation of public pools and thereby exposing the public to health hazards.

It claims when Ivie explained to Hickman and Urquhart, who wanted St. George area pools to be exempt from the rules, why such rules were necessary, they told him "they would deal with it in their own way (meaning changing the rules through legislative action)."

Last year, the Joint Executive Appropriations Committee, on which Hickman sits, cut funding for two full-time positions from the health department's Bureau of Food Safety and Environmental Health, where Ivie was a general sanitation and safety manager.

Ivie was laid off in June 2002 and was told it was due to a lack of funds from the Legislature, according to the suit.

The suit alleges managers at the health department told Ivie Hickman wanted him terminated.

Ivie filed a similar suit in 3rd District Court against the state, the health department and Rod Betit, executive director of the department. That was dismissed in December.

The latest lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for lost wages and benefits, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and court and attorney costs.

Hickman said he and Urquhart were dismissed from the previous suit in October because of legislative immunity.

"I would assume we would be dismissed again," he said.

Neither Urquhart, Ivie nor Betit could be reached for comment Tuesday.

E-mail: dsmeath@desnews.com