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Judge suspends Utah law restricting some federal officers

By Richard Piatt | Posted - Jun 28th, 2013 @ 7:03pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order on a new Utah law meant to prevent U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management personnel from enforcing state laws in Utah.

U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer said the battle over HB155 might confuse the public by creating a checkerboard of areas where certain laws are enforced or not enforced. But there is passion behind the argument that HB155 is addressing a real problem.

No one would expect to be stopped for a traffic violation in Salt Lake City by someone in a forest service truck. But some say in rural parts of Utah, that kind of cross-jurisdictional law enforcement happens frequently.

That's why people like Beaver County Sheriff Cameron Noel are so passionate about HB155, which limits federal law enforcement power.

"We've got federal land management officers who are out trying to do local law enforcement and really do the law enforcement that should be done by the elected official, the sheriff," he said.

Nevertheless, Judge Nuffer said the public could misunderstand the proper scope of federal law enforcement authority to the point of "irreparable harm," as a result of HB155 He issued a temporary restraining order, putting the law on hold.

Judge Nuffer said this battle might be confusing to the public by creating a checkerboard of areas where certain laws are enforced or not enforced.

It's not that county sheriffs don't need assistance at times. But Mark Ward, spokesman for the Utah Sheriff's Association, said that help should be coordinated.

"You've just got different agents going out and doing different things. They're enforcing federal law. They're enforcing state law. They're not coordinating with the county sheriff to be basically a deputy county sheriff," he explained.

In a larger sense, the bill is about who has power, and where.

Deputy Utah Attorney General Paul Tonks said, "There's a philosophy, definitely, that's involved here with the state legislature saying it's important to protect states' rights here."

The restraining order will remain until mid-July when a preliminary injunction will be put in place. Eventually, the matter could go to trial.

The U.S. Attorney's Office had no comment on Friday's court ruling.


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