The world didn’t end in December 2012, as the Mayans predicted, or with the re-election of Barack Obama, but no one told the Utah Legislature.
Lawmakers entered the 2013 session with a post-Mitt-Lost-pocalypse mindset, hunkering down with reactionary gun laws and a message to the feds to take their $400 million for Medicaid expansion and sequester it where the sun doesn’t shine.
The Utah Legislature takes pride in telling the federal government to get off its lawn, but many of this year’s bills did so with unique orneriness. One early bill claimed that Utah’s gun laws trump federal laws; at one time, the bill sponsor wanted to give local sheriffs the power to arrest federal agents who try to seize Utahns’ guns.
The contentious bill was holstered in the waning days of the session, but other bills that did pass amped up the possibility of a Wild West showdown with the feds on control of Utah’s public lands. Another package of bills prepares state agencies should the federal government go bankrupt.
The session had its share of notable big-dollar bills, including a prison-relocation plan that could cost taxpayers up to $600 million, and a plan for a downtown convention-center hotel that would have diverted millions in sales-tax revenue away from local government.
The session wasn’t without its drama, but, ultimately, it finished on a calm note, with most of the crazy tabled until next year or shut down on the floor by legislative leadership. Some legislators filed bills openly in the public eye, while others were more crafty, sneaking text into a bill at the last minute or changing a bill completely right before the vote.
It was another banner year for fortifying the Capitol against the evils of the coming socialist-federal-government takeover, and lawmakers likely have many more bills and plans stockpiled like ammo for the troubles ahead.
AND UTAH SHALL RISE FROM THE ASHES
With Gov. Gary Herbert referring to federal spending cuts as “butt-biting” time, legislators decided to bite first, sinking their teeth into message bills and bills directing the state to get its house in order in case of a federal-budget meltdown. Senate Concurrent Resolution 7 bellows at Washington, D.C., to recognize deficit spending as a threat to our nation. House Bill 195 requires the governor to identify all federal funds in the office’s budget (nobody was doing that already?) and Senate Bill 70 creates a commission for assessing the risk of losing federal funds. It also studies how to reduce dependency on federal funds.
GUNS ARE SO HOT RIGHT NOW
Aiming for the Feds
In the aftermath of the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December 2012, Utah lawmakers’ hearts were with the victims’ families, but their hands were on the holsters of their weapons—wary of the Obama administration swooping in to take away Utahns’ guns.
Most notable of these bills was House Bill 114, sponsored by Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove. While Green often said his bill was a state-sovereignty bill, not a reactionary gun bill, it was, however, titled “The Second Amendment Preservation Act” and its aim was to clarify that Utah gun laws take precedence over federal gun laws.
The original bill went so far as to say that local sheriffs could arrest any federal agents trying to seize Utahns’ guns, though Greene later removed that language. The highly publicized bill—which he previewed before a cheering crowd during a pro-gun rally the week before the session began—would have set the stage for a showdown with the feds, until it was later shot down by the Senate.
Out & Proud
Another pair of gun bills hoped to make guns easier to carry openly and easier to conceal in Utah.
House Bill 268, pitched by Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clearfield, sought to clarify that local cities and towns can’t issue disorderly conduct tickets to citizens carrying holstered or encased weapons outside their clothes unless they appear threatening—leaving cops in the fun position of waiting for a man who’s openly carrying handguns or rifles in public to do something threatening before getting involved. For the second year in a row, though, law-enforcement concerns forced Ray to holster his bill, and it was never heard for a final vote.
The bill, which did pass, turns out to be win-win both for the Second Amendment and the crazies. The latter demographic will no longer have to worry about passing a background check to be allowed to conceal their weapon, or having state officials revoke their permit.
According to Alice Moffat, director of the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification, roughly 800 permits are revoked every year, but these patriots will no longer have to worry about losing the privilege of carrying around a hidden gun, even if it’s determined that they have a mental illness or have been convicted of a violent crime. There is talk that Herbert may reject the bill, but as of press time, he has yet to pull the veto trigger.
UPDATE: On March 22,
Herbert vetoed Mathis' HB 76, arguing that he has found no
evidence that Utah's current concealed-weapons-permit process is
burdensome to Utah gun owners.
IF AT FIRST YOU DON’T SUCCEED
Dating-Violence Bill Passes After a Decade of Work
After more than a decade of trying, a bill to provide a protective order for people who experience violence in a dating relationship finally passed the Legislature. While Utah has long allowed married couples to file restraining orders, couples who are simply dating were not able to do so, though dating violence can be just as dangerous as lawfully wedded violence—one study shows that 15 Utahns died as a result of dating violence between 2004 and 2011.
Rep. Jennifer Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, was able to see her House Bill 50 pass thanks to some legislative craftsmanship. Under the bill, the restraining order would be only temporary, expiring after 180 days. The bill was also written so that it would take a stronger standard of evidence than any other restraining order for the abuser to lose his right to keep a firearm. To discourage frivolous claims, the bill also creates a felony penalty for the filing of an intentionally false protective order.
LGBT Nondiscrimination Bill Makes Historic Progress … Sort Of
Speaking of bills that won’t go away, a bill that would extend nondiscrimination protections in housing and the workplace to LGBT Utahns passed favorably out of committee for the first time since 2008, when a version of the nondiscrimination bill was first proposed. Sen. Stephen Urquhart, R-St. George, helped get some conservative support for the bill to get out of committee, only later to announce that the bill would not even be debated on the Senate floor.
Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, argued that the bill didn’t have the votes to pass, so why even argue it on the floor? He makes a good point—why should public officials represent the competing views of their constituents and engage in a dialogue about policy and principle? Democracy, shemocracy.