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New bill would allow Utah to ignore federal orders

Posted at 4:17 PM, Jan 04, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-05 12:20:41-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A bill introduced ahead of the 2024 Utah State Legislature would allow the state to ignore presidential executive orders or federal regulations that lawmakers believe trample over Utah's sovereignty.

The Utah Constitutional Sovereignty Act was introduced on Thursday by Sen. Scott Sandall (R-Tremonton). In an interview with FOX 13 News, Sen. Sandall said it would allow the state to exercise its 10th Amendment rights.

"A federal rule or law that’s proposed, if it does do harm to the citizens of the state of Utah, that we could direct our state agencies and personnel — until such time as it could be adjudicated in court — they could not comply with what that rule was," he said.

Sen. Sandall said he could think of federal air quality regulations and public lands issues as prime examples. He said he intended the legislation to flip the presumption where instead of Utah suing the federal government, the feds would have to sue the state to force compliance.

"We need to begin the process somewhere of taking back the sovereignty of the state for the benefit of the citizens for the state," he said.

Asked if he anticipated a legal challenge, Sen. Sandall replied: "I don’t think this bill file will set up that. Just the process. Every resolution would have to be vetted closely to see it doesn’t step across the line of constitutionality."

Sen. Sandall cautioned there would be a high bar so every grievance the state has with an ideologically opposed administration doesn't result in a resolution. Under the proposed legislation, a resolution to not have the state comply with a federal directive would need support from both the Speaker and Senate President. Then it needs a two-thirds majority vote from the entire legislature.

The legislation is likely to spark controversy in the upcoming session. The left-leaning policy group Alliance for a Better Utah blasted it on Thursday.

"Lawmakers might need a high school civics refresher if they are seriously considering this proposed bill. The U.S. Constitution is the 'supreme law of the land' and courts at both the state and federal level since the early 1800s have consistently rejected efforts to 'nullify' federal laws," said Chase Thomas, Alliance for a Better Utah's senior policy advisor. "As the legislative session begins, we hope that lawmakers will be focused on the real needs of Utahns and not waste our time with proposals like this."

The bill had the support of the Senate President.

"Our goal is to restore the balance of power between the state and the federal government. We plan to use this legislation only in extreme cases where we believe a federal law will have devastating consequences to Utah," Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said in a statement.