By Melissa Taylor
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY- Utah Senators voted to pass SB60, the American Civics Education Initiative on Feb. 11, and the bill will now be considered in the House.
SB60 is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Howard Stephenson, R- Salt Lake. If passed, this bill will require Utah public high school students to pass a civics test in order to graduate and receive their diploma.
“This bill would require that high school students in Utah … to pass the naturalization test,” Stephenson said. “The purpose… is to ensure that our students, when they get their high school diploma, they can actually know what it means to be a citizen and to be a voter in our republic.”
According to Pew Research, voter registration rates have declined since 2008, particularly among young people. In 2012, the share of voters younger than 30 who closely followed the United States presidential campaign was roughly half of what it was during the 2008 campaign.
‘It’s really frightening to think that people are entering the voting booths deciding who represents us and they don’t even know who’s on the ballot or what the powers of those positions they’re voting on are.” Stephenson said.
The original bill stated that students would need to answer at least 60 out of 100 questions correct in order to pass the exam. Senators had conflicting opinions on this percentage and Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Utah, proposed to amend the bill so that it would require 80 out of 100 correct answers to pass. The bill was amended with a compromise, requiring a 70% to pass.
On Feb. 11, the bill was discussed and amended during a third reading on the Senate floor. Several amendments were considered, including one from Sen. Jim Debakis, D- Salt Lake. Debakis proposed to amend the bill to add a layer of flexibility, and provide exceptions for the standard requirements.
“The big change in this allows the state board of education, under special circumstances, to take a look at certain students and waive this test.” Debakis said. “I believe all this does is give the state school board the flexibility as special circumstances arrive as they always do… We’re talking about children’s’ diplomas that they’ve worked really hard for.”
Sen. Todd Weiler, R- Davis, Salt Lake, proposed a substitute bill to change the test from 100 questions, to 50 questions. The purpose of the change is to decrease the amount of time it would take to complete the exam.
“Some of my kids’ friends have taken over an hour on the driver’s license exam that might take some of us in this room five or ten minutes.” Weiler said. “These are teenage kids with different cognitive abilities and I’m not trying to throw them under the bus, I’m saying what might take one senator five minutes might take someone else an hour and that’s the world we live in.”
The amendment passed. The bill still requires the 70 percent threshold, requiring at least 35 out of 50 questions correct to pass.
“I believe that this bill will create a sense of pride in every student who graduates. When they pass this test, they’re going to know that they have taken the same test as immigrants… and I think it will be one more accomplishment for our students.” Stephenson said.
The amended bill passed 20-8, and will now be considered in the House. It was submitted to the House Education Committee where it will be further deliberated.