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Patrice Arent, long-serving Utah Dem, says so long

Dec. 27, 2016 file photo of Rep. Patrice Arent, who tried to put an end to straight ticket voting in 2016. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah– Democratic state Rep. Patrice Arent of Millcreek said Thursday that she is retiring from the state Legislature after 20 years of service.

“There is no member of the House that started before I did,” she told Lee Lonsberry on his show “Live Mic.”

Arent started in the state Senate, took four years off to teach law and then was recruited to the state House.

Democratic state Rep. Carol Spackman Moss of Holladay also started her first term in 2000.

Arent said it’s time to move on, freeing her up for more time to ski, to travel, and also help our community in other ways. (She has nothing specific in mind.)

Lee asked her how she became involved in politics.

In 1996, Arent was residing in a district where Democrats didn’t get elected.

“I had worked for the Legislature, and I knew that one person could truly make a difference,” she said.

She said nobody gave her a chance, running against a popular incumbent

“I got a few volunteers, and we knocked on a lot of doors,” she said.

Highlights as a lawmaker

As a legislator, Arent passed more than 80 bills.

She was the founder and co-chair of the bipartisan clean-air caucus.

“Since I started that in 2013,” she said, “we have passed more clean-air legislation than in the history of our state,” adding more work remains.

Arent worked to pass one of the early safe haven laws in which a mother can safely and anonymously relinquish a child to a hospital, no questions asked.

“We’ve been able to save so many lives with that,” she said.

Arent added that babies have been saved in ways she hadn’t anticipated.

“[Young mothers] will call our hotline, and they’ll actually want to keep their child but don’t know how to do it and don’t have the financial resources.

“We can help them with that. We can point them in the right direction. So we’ve been able to save lives that we hadn’t even anticipated. What a wonderful thing.”

Arent passed a bill to ban smoking inside a car if a child is in the vehicle.

Bills to pass in 2020

She said since 2013 she’s been trying to eliminate the option of checking a box for straight-ticket voting on the ballot.

“People have their ballots at home. . . and think they have to check that box because they’re a member of the party.”

They also miss the chance to vote for judges and constitutional amendments, she pointed out.

“It’s just a mess,” she said.

Utah is one of the few states that allow a straight-ticket voting option. No other Western state has that option, she said.

Arent said she’s working on a bill to give employees — both public and private — more flexibility with their paid sick-leave time.

She said some employers will allow the worker to use sick leave only when the employee is sick.

“Some people have to call in and lie to their employers and pretend they’re sick — and that’s just sad,” Arent said.

Tips for up-and-coming lawmakers

What advice do you give to those already in office and “those considering getting into this wild game?” Lee asked.

“You have to stretch yourself. Don’t feel you have to work only on the issues you are familiar with. Learn about new things.

“Listen to your constituents. Listen to everyone…including those who oppose you. Work really, really hard.

“We have great staff, and new legislators sometimes don’t remember to work with that staff,” she advised.

“Why announce your retirement now,” Lee asked, “since you have a whole year left in your term?” Lee asked.

“It’s the best way to find good people to run in the seat I represent,” Arent said.

She said if they want to ponder running for the office, collect signatures or even observe lawmaking in person at the state Capitol, “I want to give them time for that.”

Arent closed by saying she was looking forward to getting a lot done in her final legislative session beginning Jan. 27.