2017 Interim Session – Federalism Update

Commission on Federalism

We had the joy of once again sitting in on Rep. Ken Ivory’s pet project for which he receives state taxpayer dollars, a.k.a., the Commission on Federalism.

Now, don’t get us wrong — federalism is an important principle, one which our representative democracy was built upon. Federalism is what allows state to innovate — some states are better for business, others for environmental protections, and some for medical marijuana. The fact that the federal government cannot dictate everything a state must do is what allows states to solve problems according to their needs. However, it seems that Utah lawmakers are now using this principle to simply complain about everything they don’t like about the federal government.

For example, take the resolution crafted by the Commission on Federalism and passed by the Utah Legislature earlier this year. HJR 17 provided an extensive list of “grievances” against the federal government and demanded that the feds:

  • Abolish the U.S. Department of Education;
  • Relinquish control over all the public lands within the state;
  • Reform Medicaid into a block grant program; and
  • Amend the Clean Air Act to exempt inversions from its protections.

There were many others, and we have to admit that a few of them were good, such as allowing states to experiment with marijuana policy, demilitarizing federal agencies, and stopping the bulk collection of private information. However, most of them would take away federal protections and funding that most Utahns want and enjoy.

At first, we believed that this was just another resolution full of lofty words and goals that would never go anywhere. However, Rep. Ivory is not stopping here. Although the Senate thwarted his goal of producing another series of federalism propaganda videos, he is determined to get his message out in other ways.

Rep. Ivory informed the Commission (we were being serious when we said that this commission was basically his pet project — he talked the entire time and other people only chimed in when they were giving short feedback on his proposals, or approving him and the commission staff to move forward with his plans) that he had been reaching out to other state lawmakers and legislatures across the nation to weigh their interest in joining Utah in complaining more about the federal government.

Apparently, a few other legislatures have similar federalism commissions and want to join forces. The Speaker of the House in Wisconsin, who is also the incoming President of the NCSL, is extremely interested. Arizona and Oklahoma also want to partner up. The end of goal of this outreach is to create a network of states interested in pushing back against the federal government, meeting up later this year at the NCSL meeting in Boston in August, and then organizing a national federalism conference next year. Ivory is hoping that conference will happen here in the Beehive State.

Not only do we have this conference of people who despise the federal government to look forward to, but the Commission on Federalism is also planning on following up with their resolution. The Commission is going to start sending letters to various federal agencies, demanding that they end regulations that Utah doesn’t like. If the agencies don’t comply, the Commission will ask the federal delegation to get involved. And Ivory will be reaching out to other states to have them start passing similar resolutions and sending similar letters.

In sum, our Legislature hasn’t changed and if you spend any time up at the capital, you are sure to hear at least a group of them complaining about Washington, D.C., particularly at the Commission on Federalism. We’ll keep you updated as we continue to attend future meetings so you don’t have to, although, Chase would definitely enjoy having at least one other person in the room if you would like to join him.

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