SALT LAKE CITY — Lawmakers from opposing sides of the political aisle were out in force Tuesday to both decry and champion a passel of federalism bills and resolutions making their way through the Legislature.
Democrats are fed up with the glut of states' rights message bills clogging the legislative pipeline, and said it's time to focus on the most pertinent issues facing Utahns.
Democratic members of both the Senate and House gathered to announce their concerns that the 15 or so proposals currently under consideration, if approved, could result in the loss of federal funding for a variety of programs and simultaneously drag the state into costly litigation, fiscal burdens that an already ravaged state budget cannot bear.
Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones, D-Holladay, said that reasserting local control should be a priority, but questioned the approach taken by some GOP lawmakers to challenge the status quo.
"Our taxpayers can ill afford to pay for costly court battles at the same time we are increasing class sizes in our public schools, increasing tuition in our colleges and universities and making cuts in critical programs that effect our frail citizens and people with disabilities," she said.
Less than 45 minutes later Tuesday, more than 300 people filled the Capitol rotunda to declare they plan to "take back Utah" and to say "no" to any more national monuments.
Spearheaded by GOP lawmakers Mike Noel, R-Kanab, and Chris Herrod, R-Provo, the largest rally of the legislative session so far drew participants from all corners of the state, many outraged over a leaked federal document last week that listed the San Rafael Swell and Cedar Mesa as possible national monument sites.
He and Herrod also were also joined by 27 other lawmakers, including House Speaker Dave Clark, R-Santa Clara, who declared they stood in unity to convey the message that the federal government has gone too far in its mandates and restrictive policies.
"There's a sentiment in all 50 states that the federal government's power has swung too far," Clark said, and there's a "pushback" being expressed in many of the anti-federal government bills being run on the Hill. Those bills, based on the e-mails he says he has received, are a "reflection of the constituency I represent."
Herrod used the rally to galvanize support for a trio of bills he and Rep. Ken Sumison, R-American Fork, hope to get passed that would pave the way for the state to regain control over access to school trust lands and resource-rich land that are under the purview of federal land managers.
Jones and fellow Democrats warned that some of the proposals could take Utah down a path that would result in the loss of $1.3 billion in health care funding and accrue legal costs that could range from $3 million to $12 million. They also put a price tag on what it's costing taxpayers to have legislators consider the proposals, some $40,000.
House Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake, said he acknowledged the importance of federalism issues and believes Utah should play a role in national debate of the issue, but doesn't see the current efforts as effective.
Plotting a course of action to asserting Utah's 10th Amendment rights was one that would be best accomplished in a bipartisan manner, he said.
"If my colleagues want to sit down and discuss meaningful ways that we can work with the federal government to ensure that our state retains the power to work on behalf of its citizens, then I welcome that conversation," he said. "But, simply choosing to opt out of federal programs without balancing what is at stake, and putting Utah at risk for federal lawsuits is not a plan for Utah's future, nor is it leadership."