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Group offers input on education, air quality, health care

SALT LAKE CITY — A group of retirees turned human rights activists has submitted its first set of recommendations for the state regarding five areas of focus, including poverty, gun control and education.

Members of the Utah Citizens' Counsel — the latter word spelled intentionally to reflect their desire for dialogue — studied and detailed areas where the state is doing well and where it can improve in the 2014 Utah Citizens' Counsel Assessment of Utah's Policy Progress report.

"We invite public consideration of our report and we encourage citizens of Utah to an ongoing dialogue regarding human rights in Utah," said Aileen Clyde, former second counselor of the general Relief Society presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and member of the group.

The nonpartisan group is composed of retired members of the community, many of whom worked in areas affecting public policy during their careers.

The report, released Wednesday in conjunction with Human Rights Day, contained research, praise and recommendations for state performance in five areas: air quality, education, health and health care, domestic violence and gun control, and poverty. Counsel members will send the report to the governor's office as well as to various organizations that work for policy changes in the state.

The report topics were based on seven articles listed in the Utah Citizens' Counsel Declaration of Human Rights.

"We aim to focus on ways of assessing how or whether Utah is advancing or retrogressing in the furtherance of each of the rights in our Declaration of Utah Human Rights," Clyde said.

Air quality

Utahns' increased knowledge of the dangers of pollution has pushed local leaders to take action, according to University of Utah biology professor David Carrier.

Carrier based his remarks and recommendations on Gov. Gary Herbert's Clean Air Action Team report.

Carrier said he was concerned that the report relied heavily on the adoption of low sulfur fuel and vehicle standards to reduce emissions. While this is "one of the most important things that we could do," the projections were "overly optimistic" and did not account for population growth, he said.

Recommendations from the group included putting regulations and incentives in place for people to move away from fossil fuels, such as a user fee based on miles traveled on a highway, vehicle efficiency and someone's income.

Public education

"We need all of Utah's children to succeed in school," said Dixie Huefner, former communications director for Utahns for Ethical Government, who headed the education committee.

Although education is regularly named as a priority in the state, it has not received the funding it deserves, Huefner said.

Education recommendations included restoring legislative cuts made to education budgets, more funding for pre-K programs, an increase in professional development opportunities, and offering incentives to attract quality teachers to low-income schools.

Health and health care

Although the state is one of the nation's healthiest, there is still room for improvement, said Robert Huefner, former Scott M. Matheson endowed chairman in health care studies at the University of Utah, who presented the findings on the state's health and health care.

"We must build on these advantages," he said.

The report recommended a Medicaid expansion, more financing for public health, and an enhanced ability to track factors such as patient and practitioner involvement with health care, medical mistakes, and health care cost and quality.

Domestic violence and gun control

Domestic violence homicides comprised nearly 43 percent of all homicides between 2000 and 2013, according to "No More Secrets: Utah's Domestic and Sexual Violence Report 2014," which used data from the Utah Department of Health. Most women, 55 percent, killed by intimate partners between 2001 and 2013 were killed with a gun, according to data from the FBI.

Because of these and other concerns, recommendations included additional funding to shelters and other nonprofits that offer protection to victims, more staff at the Utah Office on Domestic and Sexual Violence, background checks for all gun sales, and increased training requirements for those seeking concealed carry permits.


While federal poverty assistance measures are "commendable, … they are still woefully inadequate," said Irene Fisher, member of the counsel and former director of the University of Utah Bennion Center.

The group's recommendations included making public transportation available to all who need help getting to work, state and community focus on early poverty intervention, a higher state minimum wage, a state earned income tax credit, better access to food assistance programs, and more housing that is affordable and accessible.

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