ST. GEORGE, Utah (ABC4) – Dixie State University officials say they have been informed by state legislators that the bill to change the institution’s name will not be heard this year, yet Senate leadership insisted Friday that House Bill 278 is not dead and will be revisited in the GOP-dominated Utah Senate.
According to Dr. Jordon Sharp, the university’s vice president of marketing and communication, a decision was reportedly made during a closed-caucus meeting on Thursday that senators do not plan to hear the bill on the Senate floor. Ultimately, with only two weeks of the session remaining, the bill would die on the last day of the session if Senate leadership does not allow the bill to proceed.
“We heard last night from some of our sources that there was a conversation and a meeting that decided that this bill won’t come out on the Senate floor,” Sharp tells ABC4 News. “This is surprising and disappointing, particularly when we understand that this has been fully vetted through all of the organizations and governing bodies to look out for higher education and better take us into the future.”
“We’re waiting to see what the reasoning was and hopefully keep these discussions going,” Sharp adds. “It’s something we’re going to have to keep working on because we’re always going to do what’s in the best interest of our students, no matter how difficult that might be.”
However, during a Senate media availability Friday afternoon, Sen. Don Ipson, R-St. George, calls the bill, which currently stands in the Senate Rules Committee, a work in progress.
“We have two weeks left. It’s a work in progress,” Ipson said. “We will continue to work on it.”
Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, told reporters during the same press conference he would not comment on whether state senators have taken a position on the bill.
“We do have closed caucuses, and we try to preserve the decisions made in those closed caucuses, keeping them private until the appropriate time,” Vickers says. “So I’m not going to comment.”
Rep. Kelly Miles, R-Ogden, who sponsored the bill in the House that passed 51-20 earlier this month, said he is thrilled to hear that there’s been some “softening” after he heard Thursday the bill may not be released. Miles confirmed with ABC4 News that rumors are swirling that the bill will be revisited in the next two weeks.
“That’s all we’re asking as a House is to give this a chance to be debated,” Miles tells ABC4 News. “I think everyone needs to keep in mind that it’s a 45-day session and there’s still two weeks left. Things aren’t over until midnight on Mar. 5.”
“We’re working feverishly here in the House as we encourage our Senate colleagues to respect the individuals, associations, and groups that have studied this and unanimously recommend we change the university’s name,” Miles adds.
Yet, Ipson stated that the local community’s stance on the bill is clear.
“I think it’s evident that the community is not ready to give up the name by and large,” Ipson says.
That message was underscored by members of the Defending Southwest Utah Heritage Coalition Friday, an activist group that has continued to be outspoken about the importance of preserving the southwestern Utah community’s history and respecting its pioneer ancestors.
“Utah’s Dixie does not derive from anything other than a very beautiful and touching story about pioneers going to a very inhospitable part of the world and turning it into a wonderful place,” Tim Anderson, a local attorney and member of the Defending Southwest Utah Heritage Coalition, tells ABC4 News.
Anderson continues, “We’re in this to protect the heritage, history, culture, and traditions of the area and its future. It’s very important in dealing with these issues that the story be told, and much of the story that relates to Utah’s Dixie is enveloped within that university, college, and academy as it was many years ago.”
The Dixie State University administration provided an official statement to ABC4 News that reads as follows:
“The Dixie State University name change recommendation was never intended to erase our great history but to create a brighter future for our students. In that spirit, University administration strongly feels this bill deserves to be discussed publicly on the senate floor, where we are confident the bill has strong support,” the university states.
“We believe that the Senate should fully hear and understand the intent, purpose, and impacts of this recommendation on our students, school, and state. The recommendation has been thoroughly vetted and received overwhelming support by the hundreds of experts in higher education, business, and government who are tasked with watching out for the best interests of our schools and students, including a veto-proof majority vote from the Utah House of Representatives,” the university continues. “The University is grateful for the many individuals who have weighed in on this difficult topic.”
This is a developing story. Stick with ABC4 on-air and online for continuing coverage.