Tension builds as Legislative session comes to a close

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SALT LAKE CITY -- As the 2010 Legislature draws to a close, the tension is building at the state Capitol. Differences over a tight budget and a series of states' rights bills are topics that are dividing lawmakers.

Politically, the states' rights bills are a hot potato. Conservative Republicans have strong feelings about them, though. There are about 15 bills in progress. Critics call it grandstanding.

The fight for eminent domain is waiting in the Utah Senate, another in a list of states' rights issues lawmakers are about to discuss this year. If passed, the bill state would claim control over thousands of acres of federal land in Utah for mining, drilling and more.

The bill -- one of more than a dozen bills taking on the federal government this year -- will certainly spark a costly court fight. The bill's sponsor says it's worth it.

Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, said, "We are at a critical juncture. We can't keep having deficits like we do back east. We have got to rein in the power of the federal government, and I think the states are the best to do it."

Rep. Carl Wimmer is another lawmaker leading the charge, challenging any federal health care bill that may pass.

Gov. Gary Herbert already signed Sen. Margaret Dayton's bill to exempt federal control of a Utah-made firearm.

But not everyone is on board with this year's message bills. Democrats weren't consulted on them, and aren't supportive either.

Senate Minority Leader Pat Jones said, "No, it is not worth the time litigating. Clearly if it has a constitutional note, that's a red flag, meaning big money taxpayers have to cough up -- money we can ill afford."

The cost of a future legal fight is especially unattractive to many in such a tight budget year. Republican leaders in the House and Senate are working non-stop toward a compromise.

Also right now, there is a $21 million question: Should public education suffer that cut? Or should other state agencies bear that burden?

"The problem is, we're running out of money," said budget co-chair Lyle Hillyard. "The $21 million, it's pretty bloody, where we talk about areas we would have to take it out of and spend it. And that has us concerned there as well."

So as of right now, the question is whether to spare public education its first outright cuts in years, or have it join the rest of the state agencies who are tightening their budgets even more.

E-mail: rpiatt@ksl.com

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