Clashes between federal and local law enforcement in southern Utah -- including the high-profile arrest of 16 residents accused of trafficking in American Indian artifacts -- are driving an effort to put limits on federal officers' authority.
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said there is concern about the "gradual encroachment by federal law enforcement on what I believe are the authorities for the sheriff in the state of Utah."
Noel's son, Cameron, is the sheriff of Beaver County.
San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy said he is still dealing with the fallout from "the fiasco," last June, when federal agents arrested 16 suspected of dealing in American Indian artifacts.
"I think they acted inappropriately," said Lacy, who said all of them were arrested at gunpoint and detained. He said one of the suspects committed suicide and another attempted suicide "all because of the way the federal agents handled this raid."
During an interview a week after the raids, then-U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman and FBI Special Agent in Charge Timothy Fuhrman pushed back similar criticism.
They said authorities had reason to believe nearly all of the 24 people ensnared in the crackdown on illegal trafficking of American Indian artifacts had weapons either on them or in their homes and vehicles. Intelligence gathered during the antiquities investigation indicated danger levels ranging from zero to one suspect who told an undercover operative that if caught with artifacts, he would shoot it out with authorities rather than go to jail, Tolman said.
No weapons were fired.
Noel accused Bureau of Land Management officers of menacing off-road protesters who staged a rally last year on the Paria River streambed, which the BLM had closed to traffic.
He said four BLM officers in flak jackets took photographs of protesters and suggested they would take protesters' off-road vehicles.
The BLM agents turned over the information to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Spokeswoman Melodie Rydalch has said the office would not comment further.
But Kanab businesswoman Susan Hand said Monday the only "menacing" she heard about was rhetoric shouted during the pre-ride rally, where Noel and Kane County Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw exhorted 300 or so riders to motor up the streambed.
Hand, who organized a peaceful counter-protest picnic breakfast in the canyon, said most of the BLM officers were on foot and "seemed in good spirits."
"There didn't seem to be a lot of hostility" on either side, Hand said. "Actually, everyone seemed friendly."
HB146 would prohibit federal officers from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service from exercising any law enforcement not explicitly authorized in federal law.
It also would prohibit federal agents from enforcing any state laws anywhere in Utah's borders and would allow local jurisdictions to refuse to enforce federal laws that the localities consider unconstitutional.
The House Natural Resources Committee approved the bill 13-0 and sent it to the full House.
Patty Henetz contributed to this report