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George Pyle: Again, and again, the feds have to protect Utah from itself

Whether it’s workplace safety, protecting public land or providing equal educational opportunity, ‘The Utah Way’ comes up short.

(Steve Griffin/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP, File) In this July 24, 2017, file photo the Utah state flag waves in the morning sun at the start of the Days of '47 Parade in Salt Lake City.

It has not been a good week for The Best Managed State™.

First, we heard that Utah’s efforts to protect health care workers during the COVID-19 outbreak were so horribly puny that the U.S Department of Labor is about to revoke Utah’s ability to write and enforce workplace safety rules on its own.

... “OSHA worked in good faith to help the state plans come into compliance with their requirement to adopt an equivalent emergency temporary standard,” said Jim Frederick, Acting Assistant Secretary for Occupational Safety and Health said on a Tuesday media call. “Their continued refusal is a failure to maintain their state plan commitments to thousands of workers in their state.” ...

Utah failed to adopt a federal standard to protect health care workers from COVID. Now the feds may step in. — Bryan Schott | The Salt Lake Tribune

Note that this failure increases the likelihood that the state won’t be allowed to make its own rules on workplace vaccine mandates. Taking that power away from the state right now is actually a good thing. But it’s still sad that it came to this.

Then the U.S. Department of Justice came down like a ton of bricks on the Davis County School District for its utter, seemingly deliberate, failure to provide equal educational opportunities to minority students, especially Black students, in violation of federal law, the 14th Amendment and simple common decency.

... That refusal to intervene ultimately created an atmosphere that was so oppressive that some kids of color feared coming to class, the report said. Many stopped reporting acts of discrimination, which were often witnessed by teachers who didn’t step in, they said. A few told Justice investigators they felt the district was condoning the way they were treated by taking no action. ...

Justice department chastises Utah school district for ignoring racial harassment of Black students — Courtney Tanner | The Salt Lake Tribune

The report was so detailed and so damning that school district officials didn’t even attempt to deny any of it. They just promised to do better, and agreed to a whole lot more institutionalized federal scrutiny going forward.

Until the DOJ stepped in, absolutely nobody at the district or state level showed a lick of concern over this. Sounds like some teachers and administrators would benefit from some instruction in critical race theory.

Meanwhile, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes is about to spend a whole lot of your money trying to get the courts to overturn President Joe Biden’s recent restoration of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

... If history is any guide, Utah’s challenge will likely fail in district court. States, including Utah, have fought big monument designations since President Theodore Roosevelt designated Grand Canyon as a monument in 1908. All those suits were thrown out. Many big monument designations later became some of America’s most beloved national parks, including Grand Teton, Zion and Grand Canyon. ...

Utah AG mounting legal challenge to Biden’s order restoring Bears Ears and Grand Staircase monuments — Brian Maffly | The Salt Lake Tribune

There is some threat that Reyes might win this, given that The Former Guy so thoroughly stacked the U.S. Supreme Court with his toadies. Even though the state’s claim is ethically without merit.

The argument often heard from state officials, and not just in Utah, is that the government closest to the people is the one that should have the most power. In theory, that’s logical. In practice, Utah seems to work overtime to prove it doesn’t work.

This is no surprise to many of us who became politically aware in the 1960s, when the term “states rights” was a clear euphemism for blatant institutional racism. For Bull Conner and school segregation and Jim Crow voting laws.

Then, and now, the ideal of power residing in the states is ethically and constitutional feasible only so long as the states can prove that they can do a better job of protecting things like workplace safety, equal opportunity in education and public lands. If any state fails in that regard, it is proper for the feds to reclaim the duty and authority to enforce the law, the Constitution and human decency.

State power for the sake of state power is no more justified than federal power for the sake of federal power.

If “The Utah Way” is to make workplaces more hazardous, to deny minority students equal opportunity in education and to pretend that land owned by the federal government can’t be managed by the federal government, then it is clearly The Wrong Way.

George Pyle, reading The New York Times at The Rose Establishment.

George Pyle, opinion editor of The Salt Lake Tribune, is from Missouri. The Show Me State. That means you can’t just claim something is better. You have to show it. (Which Missouri is pretty bad at, by the way.)

gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter, @debatestate

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