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Contact lens makers would not be allowed to set the sale price of lenses in Utah under a bill approved Monday by the Utah Senate.

The bill comes in response to an announcement by Johnson & Johnson that the company planned to set a floor on the price that retailers can charge for lenses.

"There should be some ability for consumers to have a choice," said Sen. Diedre Henderson, R-Spanish Fork, who noted that China fined Johnson & Johnson over the policy. "If it's too anti-competitive and too predatory for China, we certainly should not be doing it in the state of Utah."

But Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, said companies set the retail price all the time in order to control their brand.

"When a company puts time and money and effort into its product, they have a right to protect their brand," Jenkins said. "These are free-market principles and these are principles that have not been proved to be unconstitutional."

The bill is strongly supported by 1-800 Contacts, a Utah-based contact-lens retailer.

SB169 passed the Senate 21-8 and goes to the House for consideration.

By Robert Gehrke