The legislature in action
March 8, 2013
This winter that wasn’t is winding down. I heard the redwing blackbirds the other day, and when they come back, spring can’t be far behind.
There is still a little snow on top of the muck, but not much. I don’t think it ever got more than 18 inches deep in my yard. The fences ought to be buried. In a normal winter, I’m recruiting family members to shovel off the roofs of some of the older farm outbuildings in February. Not this year.
Salt Lake got all the snow, and with the filthy air blocking out the sun, it stayed and stayed. We got all excited about two inches of new dust on crust for skiing.
The resorts have done an amazing job with what snow has fallen (and what they made). Skiing has stayed reasonably good, though not exciting, all season. That’s partly because it’s been so darn cold until recently. Now that the melt-off has begun, it will deteriorate quickly. But for now there is still some good skiing out there in the fringes; you just have to work for it. There is a little better than a month left in the season, at least according to the calendar. Another week of 50-degree days with rain may adjust things.
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Speaking of seasons that are winding down, the state legislature will be closing out its session next week. I used to follow the legislators’ antics pretty closely. That’s getting harder to do because the TV news people all have urgent high-speed chases to cover and don’t bother to cover the legislature. The Salt Lake newspapers have shrunk to a point that they don’t cover much of anything. That leaves the legislature unsupervised and free to run amok.
The hot topic this year started out as guns. The terrible shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, changed the national tone on the topic. Utah went into full panic mode. Family-friendly Utah has proposed the only reasonable steps to protect our children — arm teachers, abolish even the rudimentary gun-safety class required for a concealed-weapons permit, and empower the county sheriffs to arrest imaginary federal officers who are coming to Utah to seize our weapons.
The need to abolish the concealed weapons permit is obvious. The sponsor of the bill was concerned that a good law-abiding God-fearing deer hunter who puts a raincoat on over his openly (and legally) carried gun has become a criminal by concealing it in the rain.
While I suspect there has never been a prosecution for that situation, I have to admit there is a degree of logic in it. I’ve frankly never understood the distinction between concealed carry and open carry. If somebody is packing heat in Walmart, they are packing heat in Walmart. And you don’t want to get in the express check-out lane in front of him with 21 items in your cart.
The bigger issue permeating the legislature this year is a sort of general hatred of the federal government. Utah hasn’t seceded from the Union, but there is a long list of bills in the legislature that attempt to usurp federal power, divinely inspired constitution be damned. There is a state-mandated grazing zone created on federal land around the Grand Staircase National Monument. Another bill attempts to prohibit the Forest Service from claiming water rights (which they have been doing under state law for many years to guarantee stock water for those people grazing on federal lands). Another would give local officials the right to "take action" on federal land and to abate what the local guys considered a nuisance. I’m assuming this is stuff like demolishing Anasazi ruins that are obstructing ATV trails. Another bill would take over management of national forests that have been "mismanaged" by allowing stuff to grow there. And there is the perennial favorite: demanding that the federal government surrender all federal lands to the state.
Of course these are all for naught. The constitution makes federal supremacy on these matters clear, and what it doesn’t cover, the fact that the feds hold the deed to the land does. Still, the Utah Legislature imagines a world in which it has driven the federal menace out of the Beehive State, leaving us to (mis)manage the vast tracts of public lands ourselves, at our expense. The feds would be sent packing. Perhaps they would take the freeways, light rail, dams, waterworks, military payrolls, and all the other stuff with them.
Life in the American West is a highly subsidized enterprise. The reality is that the iconic Western rancher survives through cheap grazing leases and subsidized irrigation water. Western cities would wither without federally financed water projects. I don’t know if that is good, bad or indifferent. But it sure makes the annual anti-federal tantrum in the legislature look stupid.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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