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Bill expanding free school breakfast for needy kids is resurrected and passes Senate committee

Posted at 12:50 PM, Mar 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-10 11:18:20-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill expanding free school breakfast for needy children has been resurrected and passed a Senate committee unanimously.

House Bill 222, sponsored by Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, failed to pass the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee last week. But after public comment, lawmakers reconsidered the bill.

"I just appreciate everyone’s effort who's come forth," Rep. Johnson said. "The public, who has spoken in favor of children having food, and this committee for listening and understanding."

The bill expands a program that offers free or reduced school lunch programs. It now offers breakfast and the state would be reimbursed by the federal government.

FOX 13 News first reported on the bill's failure last week. In that hearing, Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, questioned if it really would be that effective and if it would raise costs for those students who pay full price.

His comments against the bill prompted a firestorm of angry constituent calls and emails.

"I’m just kind of wondering when we’re going to let parents be parents. That’s my question. Why all of a sudden are we the parents of all the kids? I just don’t get it," he said at last week's hearing. "You know, parents should be parents. I mean, my mother fixed my breakfast. My wife fixed my kids’ breakfast."

On Monday, Sen. Hinkins changed his opinion and offered support for the program. He even proposed an amendment to lower the threshold for children to qualify -- covering even more students with free breakfasts.

"This sounds like it would help the program, and make it more available to more schools," he said Monday.

Sen. Hinkins questioned why they shouldn't just make all school lunch and breakfast free, something Rep. Johnson said after the hearing that lawmakers ought to consider next year.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, acknowledged public opinion made them reconsider the bill.

"I appreciate the public’s outreach. Honestly, you learn a lot about a process and you learn a lot about issues," he said.

The bill passed out of committee unanimously.

Gina Cornia of Utahns Against Hunger left the committee hearing thrilled.

"It’s amazing to see what can happen when people are engaged and who let their voices be heard. It really was the public response to this that helped made this happen," she said.

Rep. Johnson thanked FOX 13 viewers and readers for speaking up.

"I appreciate Channel 13. You guys did a great job of getting this out and making the difference," he said. "The public’s comments made a difference and brought it back. The senators studied it over the weekend and they understood it so much better today."

The bill now goes to the full Senate for a vote.