The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 20, Number 7
Dec 1996

Teens and the Utah Centennial Permanent Paper Law

by Eileen Hallet Stone

This article appeared originally in Graphic Arts Journal 27 no. 9, September 1996, p. 25-26, and is reprinted here with permission.

History, heritage, education and common sense prevailed when political science students at a local high school took the initiative to lobby for the public good in Utah's 1996 legislative session. As a hands-on learning project designed by Scott Crump, advanced placement political science teacher at Bingham High School, promoting Utah's adoption of a permanent paper bill was designed to curtail long-term preservation problems associated with acidic deterioration of paper used within state agencies, as well as teach his students about the legislative process. Armed with information gleaned from Utah's State Librarian (Amy Owen), State Archivist (Jeff Johnson), State Historian (Max Evans), a paper rep from Dixon Paper Co. (Kevin Deesing), two preservation professionals, and one legislator, Utah's Centennial Permanent Paper Law resulted-the 13th such state law in the country-through a process that other states may benefit by modeling.

According to Crump, the students' goal was to create the "proper bill format and language to present to the state legis-lature on the advantages of using alkaline (permanent) paper." Sarah Talley (Preservation Archivist, Utah State Archives) and Randy Silverman (Preservation Librarian, University of Utah) were invited to explain to the class the process of making machine-made alkaline paper and its current status as a readily available, cost competitive product. State Representative Mont Evans detailed the process of passing legislation, and explained the nature of politics and the difficulties in passing a bill of any kind. As researchers, the students fleshed out issues concerning permanent paper: long-term preservation benefits, environmental impacts, printability, economics, and availability. They selected spokespeople and alternates, developed visual aids, and rehearsed presentations in anticipation of House and Senate Committee hearings.

"The big day finally arrived not long after the legislature convened in January of 1996," said Crump. "Looking professional in their best dress, the students made their first presentation before the House of Representatives Human Resources Committee." Although well-prepared, the students received an unexpected objection which threatened the bill's progress. "One representative, concerned with the breakdown of postconsumer waste in landfills, asked if governmental toilet paper would have to be made of permanent material as well!" recalled Crump. In response, amendments were proposed limiting the use of alkaline paper to archival-quality documents intended to be preserved for 20 years or more. "Because of the difficulty in determining which documents would become historically significant, these amendments were rejected by the bill's sponsors," Crump added.

Shifting its focus, debate continued. Concerns were raised that the state would pay a premium for using permanent paper when less permanent paper would suffice. Although the cost difference between alkaline and acidic paper is a moot point, the state's purchasing agent finally prevailed in amending the bill to allow the purchase of alkaline paper only when its cost is equal to or less than other types of paper. With only a few dissenting votes, the Committee passed the bill.

The bill's next hurdle was the vote on the House floor itself. During the bill's formal presentation by Representative Evans and the debate that followed, the students had to listen from the sidelines. "A surprising turn of events occurred when the heated discussion led one legislator to stand and lambaste the bill as one of the stupidest proposals he's ever seen," said Crump. "'The benefits from using permanent paper seem self evident,' objected the representative. 'This body should not be mandating procedural criteria to other governmental agencies.'" The electronic tally returned a 37 to 37 tie; lacking a majority, the bill was dead! Disheartened, the students left the visitor's gallery comprehending Representative Evans' warning about the difficulties inherent in the political process.

However, all was not lost; Mont Evans had a plan for reviving the bill! A clause in Utah's legislative procedures allows failed legislation to be reintroduced within 24 hours by any legislator who originally voted against the measure. Using Johnson, Talley, and Silverman as lobbyists, Evans was soon able to reverse a number of key legislators' stances, and another sponsor-Representative John Valentine-was easily identified. The following day, a second vote produced a different tally-56 to 16-and easily moved the bill on to the Senate.

The students' presentation before the Senate committee was confident, building on the experience gained in the House. A key moment occurred after the final argument had been made and one of the committee members leaned across his desk to ask, "Why should we worry about this paper issue? Everything will be digital in a few years, anyway." Never losing a beat, the last teenage presenter fired back, "The future is not at risk; it's our current documentary heritage that is in question." Struck by the sagacity of this 15-year-old's comment, the senator asked if he were free the following day to help him present one of his own bills! The bill sailed smoothly to the Senate floor, with the vote in the final hours of the legislative session carrying the measure by a strong majority. Three weeks later, many of the class's 20 members were proud to witness Utah's governor, Michael Leavitt, sign the bill into law, turning their hopes into a reality.

The law itself is simply an amendment to an existing Archives charter, urging state purchasing to acquire alkaline paper whenever possible in preference to acidic paper. Long-term benefits to the state for adopting this law are that all state agencies are now assured their "paper trail" will be printed and copied onto permanent stock. "Dressing up" the proposal by tying it to the state's centennial year was a useful tactic, but any number of similar historical events could be substituted to good effect. Using the advocacy of young lobbyists to promote a bill provided a no-cost, thoughtful solution to the issue of preserving our cultural history takes advantage of the legislative process at its most vulnerable point-its conscience-while giving young people an incredibly valuable opportunity to participate firsthand in the political system.


To help make state agencies aware of the legislation, the Utah State Archives collaborated with the University of Utah to produce a unique poster commemorating the law's passage as a means of educating people concerning the benefits of using alkaline paper. Noted graphic designer McRay Magleby and his team (Norm Darais, editor; Jonathan Skousen, typographer; Rory Robinson, silkscreener) were awarded the commission, and produced a stunning limited edition silkscreened work. The first copy of the poster was presented to John Carlin, Archivist of the United States, during the annual Conference of Intermountain Archivists held in Salt Lake City in June, 1996. Copies of this poster are now available for sale to the general public.

Capitalizing on Utah's experience, the 37 states still lacking legislation supporting the national permanent paper law may want to consider employing a similar strategy. Lacking the organizational structure of a formal statewide preservation program, Utah's measure was accomplished informally with the cooperation of two preservation professionals, the directors of the state's library, archives and history programs, and the good will and effort of a few concerned citizens.

Copies of this poster are available for $10.50 (including shipping and handling) from Randy Silverman, Preservation Librarian, Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT 84112 (801/585-6782). Please make checks payable to "Marriott Library."


Enrolled Copy H.B 162




Sponsor: R. Mont Evans


This act affects sections of Utah Code Annotated 1953 as follows:


63-56-20.8, Utah Code Annotated 1953

Be it enacted by the Legislature of the state of Utah:

Section 1. Section 63-56-20.8 is enacted to read:

63-56-20.8. Use of alkaline paper.

(1) As used in this section, "alkaline paper" means paper that is acid-free, manufactured with calcium carbonate as the principal filler, and meets standards for paper approved by the American National Standards Institute, National Information Standards Organization, and American Society for Testing and Materials.

(2) (a) Notwithstanding Section 63-56-20, which requires public procurement units to purchase products from the lowest responsible bidder, and except as provided in Subsection (b), every public procurement unit shall l;;;y8purchase and use alkaline paper.

(b) A public procurement unit shall purchase alkaline paper unless:

(i) the bid or purchase price for alkaline paper or alkaline recycled paper exceeds the lowest responsive and responsible bidder whose bid meets the requirements and criteria set forth in the invitation for bids;

(ii) there is no alkaline or alkaline recycled paper reasonably available that meets the requirements and criteria set forth in the invitation for bids; or

(iii) other paper products have equal or better quality characteristics than alkaline paper and meet standards for paper approved by the American National Standards Institute, National Information Standards Organization, and American Society for Testing and Materials.

  1. The state archivist shall promote the use of alkaline paper within state government, local units of government, and school districts.

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