More Dogs on Main
February 24, 2012
There’s something fishy going on. It’s like when the dog is in the house, but you haven’t seen it for a couple of hours. It could just be asleep in the sunny spot on the floor upstairs. Or it could be downstairs chewing your ski boots into pieces. There’s little middle ground. Things are either completely benign, or horribly wrong.
What has me spooked is that we are getting pretty deep into the annual session of the state legislature and they haven’t really pegged the stupid meter yet. That can only mean one thing: There is something shockingly stupid being held in the wings. Minutes before the session winds up, the "Fetal Gun Rights" legislation will get pulled out of a drawer, and before anybody even sees it coming, every fetus in Utah will be issued a concealed-weapons permit because, as we all know, gun rights begin at conception.
The legislature doesn’t get a completely free pass. There are some stupid things going on. There is the annual effort to rewrite history and claim that all the public lands in Utah should belong to the state instead of the federal government. The idea is that if the jack-booted storm troopers of the BLM surrendered the federal lands to the state, we would all be rich, or at least be able to drive our Jeeps over thousand-year-old Indian ruins. In the minds of the legislators, there is a huge demand for people wanting to own a piece of the Salt Flats. They would line up to buy that land from the state, and we’d all be rich.
This seems to overlook the fact that, for a long time, the federal government was basically trying to give the land away under the Homestead Act, and that while the early Utahns were aggressively expanding their settlement into even the most improbable locations, they chose not to homestead on land that is really uninhabitable. But never mind. They want to get control of it so they can strip mine the national parks. The state can’t afford to manage its own state parks system and existing state lands. But dadgummit, they want to get control of the federal lands. They have budgeted $3 million to spend on pointless litigation defending it. It makes the right wing feel loved, and they are well armed, so it probably makes sense to give them what they want.
Then, entirely consistent with the state’s constant whining about the federal government intruding on local affairs, the legislature wants to intrude on local affairs. There is a bill that would preclude cities and counties from charging somebody with disorderly conduct if the only basis for the charge was that the person was openly carrying a firearm. So if somebody with a sniper rifle is lurking in the bushes in front of a school all day, the police might be able to arrest him for jaywalking, but parading in front of a school playground with a rifle is not disorderly conduct. It’s not something that comes up very often, but the legislature is going to control it at a state level rather than trusting the professional judgment of the cop on the ground.
And then there is the electronic-billboard bill. This one would prevent cities from controlling the location of those hideous electronic billboards. The billboard companies want to swap the old paper billboards with new electronic billboards. Numerous cities have ordinances that prevent that, especially in residential areas. The Salt Lake Tribune quoted Rep. Wayne Niederhauser from Sandy (guess which party) as saying, "I don’t want to take over local control of everything. But when they go outside the bounds of some fundamentals we believe in, then yes, it is the state’s right to step in and make some changes." In other words, he’s all in favor of local control just as long as cities do what he tells them to do. And what right is more fundamental than being able to shine a bright light into your neighbor’s bedroom?
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Still, compared to most years, this legislative session has been pretty calm. The GOP primary, on the other hand, just gets crazier. One of Newt Gingrich’s new issues is whether you can put a gun rack in a Chevy Volt. As proof that an electric car is anti-American, Newt said, "We believe in the right to bear arms and we like to bear the arms in our trucks." He said, "You can’t put a gun rack in a Chevy Volt." General Motors responded by putting a gun rack in a Chevy Volt. Mitt Romney was varmint hunting, and not available for comment. Santorum said that gun racks begin at conception.
I guess that Iran situation has worked itself out.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column for 25 years.