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UHSAA: A question of bill power

Published January 10, 2008 2:13 am

A state lawmaker seeks to shift administrative power to State Board of Education
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Like a triple-overtime basketball game, the tussle among the Utah High School Activities Association, powerful state lawmakers and the State Board of Education regarding which group should govern high school sports in Utah seemingly never ends.

Clearly, the UHSAA governs them now, with the SBE as its valued teammate, a role the SBE has repeatedly said it endorses. The UHSAA refers to itself as a private, non-profit agency that acts as a quasi-state actor with consultation from the SBE.

But the other team - led in the latest battle by Rep. Ben C. Ferry, R-Brigham City - wants to shift the power to the SBE, which the state Legislature in essence controls by statute.

Ferry is drafting a bill that makes the bylaws of the UHSAA the policies of the Utah State Board of Education and exempts those policies from the requirements of the Utah Administrative Rulemaking Act. The bill seeks to require the school board to make rules that would allow charter, private and home school students to participate in interscholastic activities.

Although the UHSAA clarified its rule to allow such participation last fall, it cannot force its member schools and districts to play along. Some districts, most notably those in Utah County, have balked because they stand to receive no funding from the state for the "traveling" students.

Presumably, this new bill would make all districts accept the traveling students through an SBE directive.

Ferry presented the bill at an Administrative Rules Review Committee meeting Wednesday. It is sort of an outgrowth of a bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Lehi, that was either defeated or withdrawn the past few legislative sessions.

Obviously, the 2008 bill has drawn the attention of the UHSAA, which thought it had done enough last fall after a series of summer meetings to appease lawmakers and stop the flow of bills aimed at fiddling with its authority.

"If I sound a little unhappy about it, I am," UHSAA attorney Mark Van Wagoner told committee members. "We were told [last summer] that we [were] not responsive, and we got it done. We did what you asked us to do. If this [legislation] passes, all that will happen is that there will be a fight over everything."

Ferry tried to calm the UHSAA's fears by saying that he is trying to validate the UHSAA's bylaws as rules so that they are "enforceable."

Told by Van Wagoner that state and federal courts the past 15 years have determined the UHSAA's rules are enforceable time and again, Ferry said he has been told by the legislative's legal research department that they are not until they have been promulgated at a school board level.

"Then they are absolutely wrong," Van Wagoner said, noting that if the legislature makes the UHSAA a branch of the State Board of Education, it will do something "that no other state in the Union has done."

Larry Shumway, deputy superintendent of the SBE, listed some "challenge areas" that the SBE staff has with the bill, but quickly mentioned that the board itself has not taken a position on it.


* A state lawmaker has drafted a bill that seeks to shift the responsibility of governing the majority of high school sports and activities from the private, non-profit Utah High School Activities Association to the State Board of Education.

* SBE officials agree they do not want to be in the business of scheduling games, disciplining coaches, running state tournaments and the myriad other things the UHSAA does.

* The bill possibly would extend the SBE's governance to the 15-20 private schools (such as Judge Memorial and Juan Diego) that are members of the UHSAA yet not under the authority of the SBE.




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