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HB57 • After a dogged debate, the House passed a bill Friday that would fund a $1.7 million veterinary-school partnership between Utah State University and Washington State University despite concerns about the price tag.

Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal, told lawmakers that promising veterinary students must leave the state each year to pursue that career and that Utah is facing a shortage of animal doctors.

"It's the right thing to," Mathis said. "It's a tough time to do it, but if it's the right thing to do, then we should do it."

Mathis said 20 to 25 students go out of state each year to get the degree, but USU is primed to begin taking them. The partnership would have students enrolled in the program attend the Logan school for the first two years and WSU for the final two.

Rep. Johnny Anderson, R-Taylorsville, attempted to amend bill HB57 to require graduates to spend four years practicing in Utah, but Mathis objected and the amendment failed.

Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, said she would support it "in a perfect world," but pointed to the need for primary-care physicians. She said he couldn't justify the cost of the Mathis proposal.

The program would save money in comparison to having USU operate its own veterinary program. Mathis said that price tag would be about $10 million.

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said, as a rancher and farmer, he saw the proposal as a way to protect the $15 billion agriculture industry by getting more qualified veterinarians in the state — calling them "a critical element" in that economy.

"We have got to make sure that our agriculture economy is sound," Noel said, "and, frankly, we are losing that foundation."

The House adopted the bill 48-23, sending it to the Senate.