“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” – The 10th Amendment to the United States Constitution
With the big Republican wins in the November 2010 elections, there seemed to be a common thread among the victorious candidates: Spending needs to be reined in on the national level.
In Utah, a state already dominated by a conservative legislature, and considered by most to be very well run, the new lawmakers elected to serve in the Utah statehouse aren’t necessarily riding the same “rein in spending” wave that their peers on the national level are. When talking to several new and more senior members of the Utah House of Representatives, however, it quickly becomes clear what will join boilerplate hot issues like education, the budget and public safety as a key item this year: The 10th Amendment.
One need not look further than a recent event hosted by the Utah Tenth Amendment Center, where a room packed full of Utah residents gathered to watch Utah lawmakers line up and present bills that they will sponsor in the 2011 Legislative Session that, they hope, will reassert Utah’s state rights.
The bills range from one sponsored by Rep. Carl Wimmer, R-Herriman, that would allow Utah to assert itself on the matter of the federal government attempting land grabs in the state to a bill sponsored by Rep. Bill Wright, R-Holden, that would exempt food grown and sold within Utah’s boundaries from new regulations by the FDA.
Collectively, these lawmakers are sponsoring bills that use the Constitution to scrutinize a range of things the federal government does that they believe the feds shouldn’t be involved with. Ultimately, they want Utah as a state to be responsible for what the Founding Fathers intended states to be responsible for.
“Now is the time for state legislators to actively take a role in protecting your rights,” said Utah Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, at the recent Tenth Amendment Center legislative briefing. Herrod referenced an experience he had some time ago teaching in the former Soviet Union.
“I remember asking my students in class, ‘How do you enjoy your new freedoms?’” Herrod told the group. “One of the students spoke up almost immediately and said, ‘Chris, until we have the right to own and control property, we are not free.’ Property was of essence to them.”
With that, Herrod noted, 67 percent of Utah is owned by the federal government.
“We are not what I consider a full state,” he told the room. “We are still a state in infancy.”
Going into the 2011 Legislature, new lawmakers like Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, are passionate about having Utah take control of the things states are meant to control. In the weeks leading up to the 2011 session, Ivory has been speaking to many groups around the state on the issue of state sovereignty, asking the simple question of “Where’s the line?” between what the feds can control and what states should control.
Ivory quotes the Founding Fathers in depth during his speeches, noting among other things that Thomas Jefferson once stated that state governments must be strengthened and states themselves must erect barriers at the Constitutional line.
“We’ve got big issues,” Ivory told Sutherland Daily. “Should we (Utah) not be the model of what it means to be self-reliant?”
Ivory notes that Utah has a solid foundation of charity, service and hard work, and as a result is in prime position to set the example for the rest of the country in redefining what states’ rights are. He tells the story of a special education teacher in Tooele, Rebecca Ford, who is worried that her weekly bake sales to raise money for field trips and other activities will no longer be allowed under the Hunger-Free Kids Act, which would require schools to make any foods sold to students during school hours healthier.
“If they can do that, what can’t they do?” Ivory asks. “If (Secretary of the Interior) Ken Salazar can take 6 million acres at the stroke of a pen, what can’t they do?
“Where’s the line? Where’s the line?”
Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, will join Ivory as a freshman lawmaker on Capitol Hill this month. Peterson echoes the thoughts that Utah can and should be a leader in asserting states’ rights.
“There is a feeling in the body that Utah almost has an obligation to stand up and do something just because [budget-wise] it’s well managed and it seems with our house in order, we have the opportunity to be able to stick our necks out and exercise some leadership,” Peterson said. “I guess it just comes down to who wants to be first the most.”
To be certain, Utah will not be the only state with proposed legislation asserting states’ rights this year. In fact, many states, including Idaho, Montana, Texas and Virginia, have introduced several pieces of legislation in recent years addressing 10th Amendment issues. Previous bills that have found success in legislatures, including Utah’s, have included opting states out of portions of Obamacare and exempting firearms manufactured and sold within a state from federal gun laws.
It was that firearms legislation, in fact, that served as some of the inspiration for a Utah Intra-state Commerce bill that will be sponsored by Rep. Wright. The bill, which exempts any foods grown and sold within the state of Utah from new stringent FDA food safety regulations, was actually written by Connor Boyack, state chapter coordinator for the Tenth Amendment Center.
“This is a commerce issue; it’s a constitutional issue,” Boyack said. In late 2010, federal lawmakers approved the Food Safety Modernization Act, legislation that enacts much stricter safety standards on food produced and sold to people in the United States. Boyack argues that increased regulations could seriously hurt food producers.
“The regulatory burden that is being imposed on them threatens their very livelihoods,” Boyack said. “It’s (his bill) a very proactive stance to allow Utah to stand up and say, ‘On this issue, for agriculture, we will uphold the Constitution.’”
Perhaps the most ambitious of 10th Amendment agenda items on the docket of Utah lawmakers is a bill proposed by Wimmer that would change the way Utahns pay their federal income tax. Under Wimmer’s proposal, Utah residents would pay their federal income tax to the Utah State Tax Commission. The state would then have a board set up to determine which parts of the federal government are constitutional, and then tax dollars would be sent to those agencies.
“Immediately the fed is going to come in and try to overthrow this,” Wimmer said. “Then, we have to go to the next step, and is the next step nullification? Quite possibly.”
Wimmer said he was outraged last year when federal officials bypassed the power of the Utah Legislature in giving the state $100 million to use for one-time education funding.
“’You can’t refuse it,’ they said to the states,” Wimmer told those at the Tenth Amendment Center’s legislative briefing. “‘If you refuse it, we’re still giving it to you; we are going around the Legislature.’
“I have never seen that in my entire life, never in my entire life have I ever seen the federal government so brazen in its complete overthrow of state legislative bodies,” Wimmer said. “It offends me because it took away your power to elect your representatives and to have representation at the local level.”
Wimmer, who has established an exploratory committee for a potential 2012 congressional run, acknowledged that this type of legislation is a one- or two-year process for him.
“We’re losing the battle,” he said. “But I believe we will win the war.”