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More added to Legislature's special session agenda

Published: Monday, July 15 2013 1:45 p.m. MDT

Three items have been added to the agenda of Wednesday's special session of the Utah Legislature, called primarily to handle issues related to the House investigation of Attorney General John Swallow.

Ray Boren, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — Three items, including the repeal of controversial anti-federal government legislation, have been added to the agenda of Wednesday's special session of the Utah Legislature.

The special session was called primarily to handle issues related to a new House investigation of Utah Attorney General John Swallow.

Gov. Gary Herbert issued a new agenda Monday allowing lawmakers to consider giving investigators not licensed in Utah the ability to assist the House committee that was created last week to investigate Swallow.

But the new agenda also calls for lawmakers to look at repealing HB155, a bill passed last session limiting federal law enforcement authority on public lands in Utah. The bill is being challenged in court by the federal government.

The governor's deputy chief of staff, Ally Isom, said the repeal was put on the agenda at the request of the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.

"We were told by the bill sponsor that he would like to wipe the slate clean and take a fresh look at the issue, given the controversy around it," Isom said.

Noel declined to be specific about his intentions. "I'm not supposed to comment on it because we're in litigation. But that's what we're looking at," he said. "I still think there's some things we can do."

House Majority Leader Brad Dee, R-Ogden, said any changes to the legislation should wait until a regular session. "I'm sure Rep. Noel has done his homework on this," Dee said.

Dee said if Noel supports the repeal, he expects House members will, too, despite some strong feelings about the federal government, "understanding the cost of litigation and the chances of winning."

Last month, a federal judge granted an order for a preliminary injunction against the law, ruling there is a substantial risk of "irreparable harm" as a result of public confusion over the federal government's authority to enforce laws on public land.

The bill sought to restrain the authority of U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management employees after rural sheriffs complained people were being indiscriminately hassled or arrested.

Herbert is also asking lawmakers to approve a settlement in a long-standing case involving the state Armory Board's attempted purchase of Deep Creek Ranch, nearly 800 acres of property in Tooele County.

The 1997 deal, which called for the state to pay for the land with access to surplus property, has been in the courts since 1999. Assistant attorney general Thom Roberts said the proposed settlement is just under $3 million.

Already on the agenda for the special session are changes intended to clarify the power of the new House committee, including some exemptions to the state's open meetings and records laws, as well as allowing out-of-state legal counsel to provide assistance.

Swallow, who took office in January, is the subject of federal, state and local investigations on a number of allegations, including that he helped broker a deal for an indicted Utah businessman seeking to stop a federal investigation into his company.

The attorney general has denied any wrongdoing.

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