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Bill offering free school breakfast for needy kids fails in Utah State Legislature

Posted at 9:27 PM, Mar 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-04 23:27:52-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill that would provide free breakfasts to needy children who need it failed to pass out of a Senate committee.

House Bill 222, sponsored by Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, would have schools that provide free lunches to students also provide free breakfast. The federal government would reimburse the state for the costs.

"I think there’s a lot of advantages to this kind of program," said Rep. Johnson, speaking to the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee. "I was convinced it’s the right thing to do."

About 16,000 students would benefit from it and Utah would get about $6 million, Rep. Johnson said. He argued it would be better to help children learn when they're not hungry. Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, said it was important legislation to help children.

But the bill failed on a 2-3 vote. Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangeville, questioned whether Utah would, in fact, be spending more than it got from the feds and why more schools didn't do it if it was so necessary.

"I'm just kind of wondering when we're going to let parents be parents?" Sen. Hinkins said. "Why all of a sudden are we the parents of all the kids? I just don't get it."

The bill had support from the Utah PTA, the Utah Board of Education, Voices for Utah Children and other advocacy groups. Utah State Schools Superintendent Sydnee Dickson spoke in favor of the bill.

Utahns Against Hunger criticized the vote.

"In a world where both parents have to work full-time to provide for their children, this legislation would ensure that students are learning with a full stomach. Simply put, it would improve their quality of life and it is the right thing to do," the organization said in a statement Wednesday night. "The bill also provides flexibility for local schools. Feeding kids isn't a political ideology, it is an investment in their success. We hope that the Senate will reconsider the legislation before the end of the session."