By Abigail Norton
Provo’s newest representative on Utah’s Capitol Hill hasn’t wasted any time getting started, and he’s going straight for the big guns.
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, a BYU alumnus, fills the seat of former House Speaker Becky Lockhart, who died Jan. 17 after an unexpected diagnosis and battle with an aggressive brain disease. While his district doesn’t include BYU campus, he does represent many BYU students who live south of 300 North.
One of the first things on the agenda is to push a bill that would allow weapons on public transportation. The bill has yet to be officially filed with a number.
Under Utah law, carrying a gun or another weapon with the proper permits is legal; however, on buses or trains it is a felony.
UTA spokesman Remi Barron said the transit authority has not yet taken a position. “There is not yet any official language attached to it, and UTA will wait to examine the details of the legislation before taking a stance,” Barron said. “We are always happy to work with legislators as they craft bills that may impact the agency.”
For Monica Bellenger, of Utah Parents Against Gun Violence, having guns on public transit is a non-starter. “If an individual is seen boarding a bus or train with a gun on their person, many other passengers are going to immediately be rightly concerned for their own safety — they will call 911, they will be worried, they may disembark, they will be concerned — and they should be. Ordinary citizens don’t have any way of knowing if a particular armed person is a threat or not,” Bellenger said.
An economist and health care reform advocate, Thurston graduated magna cum laude from Brigham Young University with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and agricultural economic analysis. He received his master’s degree and doctorate in economics from Princeton University.
Thurston’s agenda also includes gas tax and air quality bills. When it comes to a fuel tax increase, Thurston said he wants to be part of the dialogue. Current gas tax proposals could lead to price hikes between 11 and 20 cents per gallon. Thurston said he wants to find a solution that will offset the effects of inflation while avoiding major periodic adjustments.
Thurston also opposes the proposed wood-burning ban, citing studies from the Division of Air Quality, which report that wood burning has no significant impact on the environment. When asked what he thought could lead to changes in Utah’s air quality, he said the state is getting to the point where it is hard to pinpoint one thing that will make a difference.
Thurston said he believes his problem-solving experience as an economist has prepared him to be a legislator. “Having had that training as to how you think about problems is critical to policy-making,” he said.
Thurston and his wife, Maria, have been married for 25 years and have three children and one grandchild.