SALT LAKE CITY – A bill that would allow the Legislature to halve the University of Utah's administrative budget if it continues to ban guns on campus advanced in the Senate on Tuesday.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, acknowledged that the bill is generally assumed to be aimed at the university, but he assured the Senate that the bill isn't punitive.
Rather, he said, it would create a way to notify agencies or groups when any legislator discovers they are not following Utah statutes.
After committee hearings and pubic testimony, if the agency still refused to obey, they could be subject to penalties, including losing half their administrative budgets.
Sen. David Steele, R-West Point, pointed out that audit committees already are available to examine agencies and their practices. "Are we going to have the legislative branch be the judicial branch?" he said.
"This sends a very chilling message to people who run our institutions," said Senate Minority Whip Ron Allen, D-Stansbury Park.
In January, University of Utah president Bernie Machen was called before legislators to defend the 20-year ban on guns at his campus. House Speaker Marty Stephens, R-Farr West, said the campus rule infringed on the state's concealed-weapons laws.
Machen said it was a bad time for legislators to challenge the gun ban with the Winter Olympics just days away and the campus hosting two Olympic venues.
Machen was warned he could face financial sanctions. He told legislators he was willing to go to court to defend the ban.
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff has said that papers in the lawsuit testing the ban could be filed next week.
Bill supporters said such lawsuits between state agencies are unacceptable, especially during tight budget years.
The bill is not just about the university, said Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper. It allows the Legislature to get the attention of agencies "who from time to time feel they are above the law."
Waddoups, asked to give an example of an agency other than the university that might be the bill's target, said the state Committee of Consumer Services hasn't moved from the fourth floor of the Heber Wells Building, as ordered last year.
The bill passed 15-11. It would have to pass one more time in the Senate before going to the House.