SALT LAKE CITY - Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, has shifted a potential turf war over the jurisdictions of sheriffs from a showdown with local police chiefs, to a potential tussle with federal authorities.
Ray has crafted legislation designating the sheriff as the primary law enforcement of state law on federal lands in Utah. His bill, HB 225, is a reversal of what he initially suggested when he opened a bill file addressing jurisdiction of local sheriffs last year. He said he wanted to discuss emergencies in a county and who would take the lead.
By shifting the focus, the bill would stipulate jurisdiction on all federal lands, except designated places like Hill Air Force Base. His bill received a favorable recommendation by a House committee and advanced to the House for further discussion.
The Clinton Republican claims he is not trying to create a confrontation with federal authorities.
"In my opinion this will allow the sheriff to do what he needs to do. If the federal government has issues with it they can take it up with us," Ray said.
His bill comes a year after Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, ran legislation (HB 155) signed into law that would have put limits on federal authorities who are not certified law enforcement officers to enforce any law in Utah. It created a $1,000 fine and six months in jail as penalties for the offense. The case was challenged in court where a preliminary injunction kept the case from moving forward. The Legislature then rescinded the bill.
Noel was among the committee members who voted to move the bill forward.
He said he likes the bill but doesn't want the state to get into the same situation it was in last year with a federal judge.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who is championing the state's effort to gain control of federal lands in Utah, thinks the bill hits the mark in making it clear who should take the lead in enforcement cases.
"I applaud the effort. It's time we start making it very clear, because jurisdiction not asserted is jurisdiction lost," Ivory said.
Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, wondered why the bill is necessary, if the bill doesn't give local authorities any new jurisdiction.
"Somehow this feels like there is a back story to this," Briscoe said.
Noel, whose son is a county sheriff, said sheriffs are accountable to the people who elect them, while federal authorities are not. He said the issue comes down to being vigilant about individual liberties.