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As a former teacher, Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, said being in the Legislature is "like being in the classroom again."

Briscoe, who taught for 26 years, made this comparison because he said there are many issues to vote on and many things to learn on Capitol Hill, not unlike in a school.

Twenty-two of his teaching years were spent at Bountiful High School, where he taught an advanced placement class, U.S. Government and Comparative Government.

Briscoe made an unsuccessful bid for a seat in 2006 prior to winning House District 25 last year. Unlike most Democrats in Utah, he had to win a primary election in his district.

"He had to earn that seat," said Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay. "It was a heated primary."

Moss, who taught at Olympus High School, said she formed a natural bond with Briscoe because of their love for teaching. She admires Briscoe's passion and enthusiasm in advocating for public education.

"He came to the Legislature with an outstanding background in public education," Moss said. "He has a really strong sense of ethics, [he's] just a person of integrity."

Briscoe became executive director of the Davis Education Association two years ago.

He said having been a teacher gives him a perspective on how education bills might impact the classrooms and the teachers and he worries class sizes are going up too much.

"I'm very concerned about education funding for public schools and public universities," Briscoe said. "I don't think we properly support public education in Utah."

He was a member of the Salt Lake City Board of Education from 1998 to 2002, including the last two years as president. He initially got involved because he opposed the board's ban on gay student support clubs. The board eventually reversed the ban while Briscoe was serving on it. He was also the adviser of the Gay-Straight Alliance Club at Bountiful High.

As chairman of the East Central Community Council (2008-09), Briscoe led the fight against Rocky Mountain Power's attempt to install high-voltage electrical transmission lines through his neighborhood in Salt Lake City. He helped create the Douglas Neighborhood Association, which worked with issues concerning traffic, parking, land use and zoning.

Briscoe said he used to take his students up to the Capitol to see the legislative process and he enjoyed spending time around lawmakers — one of the things he said motivated him to try to join their ranks.

"I've always tried to teach students how things work and how to make things better," Briscoe said. "I enjoy being in the place where decisions are made."

He says a top issue for his constituents is immigration.

Briscoe said he opposes HB70, aimed at authorizing state enforcement of federal immigration laws, and HB191, ending in-state tuition breaks for undocumented students who had graduated from a Utah high school. He called the latter a "tragic mistake."

Given his background as a teacher, Briscoe seeks to promote education, especially among Salt Lake City's growing number of diverse students. He reasoned that some students are undocumented because of their parents' choices, so it would be unfair to punish them for it.

Briscoe said he supports the DREAM Act, federal legislation that would provide permanent residency to certain undocumented students based on requisites such as completion of college or military service.

"It shows compassion on our part," Briscoe said. "It also helps those students transition into our culture."

One of the bills he's sponsoring is HB126, which seeks more transparency on tax exemptions. The bill would require the state Tax Commission to provide a report on tax provisions to be posted online for the public to see.

Briscoe said he enjoys seeing people come up to the Legislature and hopes more people will be involved through listening or watching broadcasts on the Internet.

"I hope that young people out there will get interested in the issues because there's impact on them even if they don't see it now," Briscoe said. —

Joel Briscoe

Age • 54

Family • wife, Christine, three adult children

Occupation • executive director of the Davis Education Association since 2008; retired teacher

Hobbies • piano, hiking, reading, some tennis