Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — A celebration of states' rights and restoring that sovereign authority is happening all day Saturday at the University of Utah Guest House and Conference Center.
The Utah Freedom Conference, which is held each year to highlight constitutional issues, is particularly focused this year on the ability of states to exercise control over their own destiny.
"States are separate and independent sovereigns, but sometimes they have to act like it," said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, one of the participants at the event.
Ivory will kick off a mid-morning session on reclaiming western lands, which will feature a speech by Chief Deputy Utah Attorney General John Swallow.
Ivory is the architect of HB148, signed into law by Gov. Gary Herbert, which gives the government a deadline to relinquish title to the federal lands it holds in Utah, with the exception of areas like national parks, national monuments and congressionally-designated wilderness areas.
It is a stand that Ivory said is gaining traction in other areas of the West because of how much land the federal government owns.
"They're filing bills in Nevada, Arizona and having committee meetings in New Mexico," he said, adding that "people are on the ground in Wyoming where there's strong interest."
Swallow is leading the state's legal charge to claim rights-of-way on an estimated 12,000 roads, routes and trails that were built in the Civil War era as a way to foster transportation.
Utah has been in dispute for years with the U.S. Department of the Interior over which roads the state or counties "own." After stalled negotiations, Swallow and his team filed 22 lawsuits earlier this year asserting claims to the roads.
Ivory says the showdowns over land in the West are not unique to Utah, pointing to a contest he watched just recently play out in Apache County, Ariz., on national forest service land over thinning of trees.
County leaders there demanded forest service officials take action on great swaths of dying forests as a matter of protecting the public's health and safety.
Saturday's event also features remarks by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, who has railed against the federal government over land-control issues.
Another conference topic will be "The Constitutional Sheriff" featuring Richard Mack, a former Provo police officer who went on to become Graham County sheriff in Arizona. He received national attention for initiating a lawsuit against the federal government over provisions in the Brady Handgun Control Act. Some of those provisions were later shot down by the U.S. Supreme Court.
For information on the conference, go to www.utahsfreedom.org.
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