SALT LAKE CITY — Laying claim to federal land. Disregarding nationwide firearms regulations. Constructing a legislative Berlin Wall between state residents and any forthcoming congressional health care reform.
Just a few items in a long litany of proposals that marched past lawmakers this session aiming to shore up, or create, rights of the state as some lawmakers feel they are enumerated under the 10th Amendment.
Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, was among the lead proponents of pushing back against perceived overreach by the federal government and even co-founded a special group of legislators dedicated to that cause, the Patrick Henry Caucus. In the waning hours of the 2010 session, he said states' rights bills found not only strong support from his GOP colleagues but widespread favor among Utahns.
"This is the biggest citizen-legislative combined effort that I've ever seen in my career," Wimmer said. "The Patrick Henry Caucus worked with thousands of people statewide to get these bills passed."
Wimmer said he and his group are dedicated to drawing a line in the sand on current federal encroachment into issues that are the purview of state government and recouping rights that have been lost over "decades of overreach."
While many of the two dozen or so bills found success, critics say there is an inherent disconnect with a state government that accepts federal money gladly, while criticizing federal involvement. House Minority Assistant Whip Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, said it was unrealistic to think that Utah can subsist without federal assistance.
"The reality is, Utah is very dependent on federal funding," she said.
Concern over what it will cost the state to defend or extend its sovereignty was also raised throughout the session. One bill, signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, establishes protection for firearms and ammo manufactured, sold and used inside state boundaries from federal firearms regulations, including things like background checks for purchasers. The law is fashioned on a Montana statute that is already being litigated in federal court. Another bill asserting Utah's right to exercise eminent domain over some federal property in the state passed the Legislature with a companion bill that caches away millions to pay for potential legal costs.
While the full cost of these bills may take some time to reveal, Wimmer says the push for states' rights is only just beginning.
"This session has provided a strong, conservative mandate," he said. "We're already planning for next session, and this summer, the Patrick Henry Caucus will be taking its message around the country."