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Legislature limits authority of federal officers

Published March 13, 2013 3:36 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Senate on Wednesday passed a House bill to limit the law-enforcement authority of employees of federal land-management agencies.

Just a handful of Democrats in each house opposed HB155, which sponsor Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, dubbed "the sheriff's bill" because it preserves the preeminence of county sheriffs in local law enforcement.

It is one of several House measures the Senate is considering in the waning days of the general session that seek to shift authority over natural resources and public lands from the federal to state and local authorities.

"This encourages federal agencies to contract with county sheriffs for law enforcement in the counties for which the sheriff is the elected representative that answers to his constituents every four years," said Senate sponsor David Hinkins, R-Orangeville.

Through elections, sheriffs are held accountable to the community every four years and are therefore more sensitive to local customs and culture than federal bureaucrats, Noel argued.

Himself a former Bureau of Land Management bureaucrat, Noel complained BLM and U.S. Forest Service officers have abused their authority on Utah's back roads and backcountry. In committee, Utah sheriffs described how agents inspect coolers, check for fishing licenses, ticket ATV riders, pull over motorists and prosecute trail-builders, among other alleged outrages.

Under this proposed law, federal land managers attempting to cite or arrest a citizen could be guilty of impersonating a peace officer. It allows for federal land managers to act as cops in emergency situations or when they have been deputized by a local sheriff.