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State lawmakers repeal law limiting federal police powers

Published: Friday, Sept. 4 2015 8:57 a.m. MDT

State legislators repealed a law Wednesday that attempted to limit the police powers of federal agencies like the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News) State legislators repealed a law Wednesday that attempted to limit the police powers of federal agencies like the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — State legislators repealed a law Wednesday that attempted to limit the police powers of federal agencies like the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management.

Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said he plans to bring back a new version of the law that is being challenged in federal court, calling it “much needed because of some of the abuses by federal law enforcement."

Noel said he believes he can come up with new legislation to stop federal law enforcement authorities from citing and arresting people for state crimes such as traffic violations or walking a dog off leash.

"What this bill does is protect citizens," he said, from the possibility of having to pay larger fines or appear in a federal court that may be hundreds of miles away.

Wednesday's action repealed HB155, passed earlier this year, as well as other portions of the state code that are the subject of a legal battle in federal court.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, was among three senators who voted against the repeal. He said legislative attorneys didn't flag the bill for possible constitutional problems and that it easily passed both houses and was signed by the governor.

But Sen. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake City, said Utahns are "sick and tired" of the Legislature passing bills that don't stand up in court. State attorneys have put in 300 hours and spent $30,000 defending the law so far, she said.

A federal judge ruled in June there is a substantial risk of "irreparable harm," with public confusion that could result if the law limiting federal law enforcement authority were allowed to take effect.

"There is a real risk that members of the public will misunderstand the proper scope of federal law enforcement authority," U.S. District Judge David Nuffer said, adding that harm would come to the critical relationship that exists between local and federal law enforcement agencies.

HB155 would have taken effect in May, but the U.S. government sought a ruling preventing its implementation.

The measure, according to Mark Ward, an attorney and senior policy analyst representing the Utah Association of Counties, grew out of the frustration of rural county sheriffs who complained that federal agents were indiscriminately hassling or arresting residents by relying on state law.

The Utah Association of Counties and the Utah Sheriffs’ Association support the repeal.

Ward said the law needs more study.

HBl155 sought to restrain the law enforcement authority of employees of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management from citing or arresting offenders unless the laws are expressly derived from federal rules, regulations or statutes. Multiple sheriffs from counties including Iron, Sevier and Wayne attended the hearing in support of the measure.

Lawmakers also approved Wednesday a nearly $3 million settlement to a 15-year-old legal battle between the Utah State Armory Board and Deep Creek Ranch over an $850,000 land deal in Tooele County.

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