The House passed 65-4 a bill attempting to limit the authority of federal officers, specifically from the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service.
HB146, now on its way to the Senate, would prohibit such officers from doing anything not explicitly authorized by federal law, and prohibits them from enforcing Utah laws.
"I believe that what this bill does is really put the agencies on notice that they need to be in line with their own bylaws," the bill's sponsor, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said.
Noel reiterated that local sheriffs need to be the ones enforcing Utah laws. "We should hand accountability back to an elected person," he said. Noel's son, Cameron, is the sheriff of Beaver County.
Noel acknowledged that the bill was inspired, at least in part, by the federal arrest of 16 Utahns suspected of stealing American Indian artifacts last June. Noel believes local law enforcement should have handled that issue.
"While I totally object to going out and digging up graves and desecrating artifacts, I believe strongly that our own law enforcement can deal with those issues," Noel said. "It seemed to be very much an overkill."
San Juan County Sheriff Mike Lacy, whose brother was arrested in the raid, in testifying for the bill in committee on Monday called the crackdown a "fiasco," saying federal agents "inappropriately" conducted the arrests at gunpoint.
Federal authorities, including the U.S. Attorney's Office, have declined to comment on the legislation and the claims made by supporters. In interviews in the wake of the raid last June, officials said they had reason to believe nearly all the suspects were armed. But no shots were fired during arrests.