ST. GEORGE — Legislation that would put state compliance to disputed federal policy on hold until a court rules on the constitutionality of it passed the Senate last week and went through a House committee Wednesday.

This file photo shows members of the Utah House on the floor during a session at the state Capitol in Salt Lake City, Utah, April 18, 2018 | Associated Press file photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Now on its way to the House floor, the Utah Constitutional Sovereignty Act bill, designated SB 57 in the 2024 Utah legislation, passed the Senate last Friday with a majority vote of 22-7 and passed the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee on Wednesday in a vote of 8-2.

According to a Utah Senate news release, the bill “invokes the rights bestowed to states in the 10th Amendment under the U.S. Constitution to grant lawmakers the authority to reject federal action they deem unconstitutional unless ruled constitutional by the courts.”

Bill sponsor Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, said the bill puts a framework in place that will allow a concerned legislator or legislators to propose a resolution related to a federal policy or rule deemed to be overreaching or constitutionally dubious.

If the resolution passes and is signed by the governor, state agencies that may otherwise be involved in implementing the federal policy in question would be instructed to hold off until the matter is decided in a federal court.

“We are going to direct our state agencies not to comply until (a time when) a court decides that a certain action taken was constitutional or not,” Sandall said in a recent interview with St. George News.

An example Sandall gave was the rule from the Environmental Protection Agency’s ozone transport rule that was struck down by the 10th Circuit Court last summer. Utah was part of a lawsuit filed against the EPA over the rule that state officials said would harm the state’s energy production capability and result in power rate hikes for Utahns.

Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, speaks about SB 57 during a Utah House natural resources committee hearing, Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan. 24, 2024 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

While the lawsuit was underway, however, related state agencies put in hundreds of hours getting ready to comply with the new rule, Sandall said. It was the same for the private sector as Rocky Mountain Power spent millions from ratepayers to come into compliance, he said.

“In the meantime, we spent a lot of time and effort on something we clearly felt was outside of their (the EPA’s) jurisdiction to rule on,” Sandall said during a Senate floor debate held Jan. 17.

So instead of spending time and manpower – and in the private sector’s case millions of dollars – preparing for a rule that may end up being struck down, Sandall’s bill puts a hold on that process until a court rules for or against the state on the matter.

However, there are a few hurdles in the way of getting a resolution passed, Sandall said.

Rep. Walt Brooks, R-St. George, who chairs the House natural resources committee and voted in favor of moving the bill to the House floor, detailed the process a legislator would have to go through to get a resolution passed.

“(The bill) creates (two) avenues to create, present and pass a resolution to remove the authority from State, County and City employees from enacting or enforcing the unconstitutional effort,” Brooks said in a text message to St. George News. “First way is to work with the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House to have them open a resolution or a legislator can open a resolution. Both will need a 2/3 of the body (both House and Senate) to pass legislation. That is a high bar, similar to a Governor veto override.”

Chase Thomas (left foreground), executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah, speaks in opposition to SB 57, while Sen. Scott Sandall (right foreground), R-Tremonton, the bill’s sponsor, sits at the opposite end of the table, Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan. 24, 2024 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

On top of that, the governor must also sign the resolution for it to take effect.

“It’s a high bar and high for a reason,” Sandall said, adding that the hurdles are in place to help keep frivolous resolutions from being considered and potentially wasting the Legislature’s time.

Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, told St. George News resolutions created under the bill would be in response to “any egregious policy that could have significant negative impact on the state of Utah. … It would need to be a significant situation to start this process.”

Vickers was among those in the Senate who voted in favor of the bill.

While the bill found a majority level of support in the Senate and House committees, some questioned the bill’s constitutionality.

“I worry a little bit,” Rep. Doug Owens, D-Salt Lake City, said during Wednesday’s committee meeting.

Owens’ concern related to the “Supremacy Clause” of the Constitution, which states federal law takes precedence over state law and that Utah would be running afoul of that by telling state agents to “act contrary to federal directive which under some circumstance I think may be unconstitutional.”

However, Owens said he liked the overall bill and that it gave the state a good process by which to address federal policy issues and would support it if not for the aforementioned issue.

Rep. Doug Owens, D-Salt Lake City, speaks to SB 57 during a Utah House natural resources committee hearing. He voted against advancing the bill due to concerns over the bill’s constitutionality, Salt Lake City, Utah, Jan. 24, 2024 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Legislature, St. George News

Comments were made by other lawmakers about other states that already choose not to follow federal law and regulations in regard to marijuana use and immigration enforcement.

During the Senate floor debate on the bill, Sen. Nate Blouins, D-Salt Lake City, said he felt the bill was “a slippery slope” that could have a negative impact on Utah politically and monetarily by entangling the state in more lawsuits.

Sandall has said the Legislature’s lawyers have analyzed the bill and have deemed the process it would create to be a constitutional one.

“This is a process bill, not a policy bill,” Sandal has repeatedly said during SB 57’s journey through the Legislature.

The bill passed the Senate on Jan. 19 in a 22-7 vote. Southern Utah Sens. David Hinkins, Derrin Owens, Evan Vickers and Don Ipson were among those who voted in favor of the bill.

Southern Utah Reps. Rex Ship and Walt Brooks both sit on the House Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee and were among those who voted to move the bill to the House floor for consideration.

Brooks later told St. George News that he voted for the bill as it provides “a clear and transparent process” the state can use to counter federal overreach.

The bill now moves to the House floor for consideration.

According to a Utah Senate press release, SB 52 is modeled after legislation passed by Alberta’s provincial government in 2022 that gave the Canadian lawmakers “a framework to push back against harmful federal policies and safeguard their provincial sovereignty.”

Check out all of St. George News’ coverage of the 2024 Utah Legislature by clicking here.

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