In waging the Western land wars, Utah lawmakers have won recruits to the battle among like-minded lawmakers at the American Legislative Exchange Council conference in Salt Lake City.
"It's tremendous," said Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who sponsored legislation in Utah demanding Congress turn over 30 million acres of federal land to the state and got the bill adopted as ALEC model legislation last year.
Ivory, who now chairs the ALEC Task Force on Federalism, said the conference is a way for legislators with common goals to share ideas and build support around the region to help restore some balance with the federal government.
Gov. Gary Herbert, who signed Ivory's bill into law, included a plug for the public land issue when he welcomed legislators to the ALEC conference on Wednesday.
"There's got to be an appropriate balance when it comes to our management of public lands," Herbert said.
Afterward, Ivory said he was approached by legislators from Nevada, Colorado, Arizona and Idaho who wanted to work with him on the issue in their states.
Maryann Martindale, executive director of the Alliance For A Better Utah, which has criticized ALEC's cozy relationships between legislators and corporate lobbyists, said that it makes sense that a bill like Ivory's would find a friendly reception.
"Who's going to profit but these corporations that are at ALEC?" she said. "Of course this is who he's going to pitch it to. This is a warm, friendly audience for this idea because they're the corporations that are going to profit from it … these oil and gas companies and private developers."
And Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said that Herbert has tried to get other governors to follow Utah's lead and they have refused.
"In fact, the governor of Arizona vetoed it because of the uncertainty it created," he said. "Other governors are unwilling to put their tax dollars at risk to satisfy a small handful of anti-federal constituents. Other states will not follow that radical action or spend their tax dollars on something so foolish."
Three years ago, Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, brought legislation to ALEC that he had successfully passed in Utah, proclaiming the state's power to exercise eminent domain, seizing federal land in the state. Herrod's bill got a favorable reception and was adopted as ALEC model legislation.
"I knew it was the right place because it's a federalism issue. It's about state rights and the proper balance," Herrod said. "I think Utah in a sense has led [the lands issue]," but ALEC has provided a favorable reception for the bills.
Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, said it's valuable for Utah lawmakers to bring their proposals to ALEC and hear feedback from think tanks that are members of the group and legislators from other states. And building coalitions with neighboring lawmakers is essential if Utah hopes to prevail in its federal land battle.
"It's great for us to try it out, but Utah's not going to get traction alone. We have to get Colorado and Arizona and Nevada and Idaho to join us."
It's not just Utah's public land issues that find a warm reception at ALEC. The organization's federalism task force also adopted model legislation on Thursday patterned after Utah's Legal Tender Act, which seeks to enable gold and silver coins to be used in business transactions.
Larry Hilton, a leader in Utah's gold movement, said ALEC's action is an important step toward helping states exercise their constitutional role in setting monetary policy.
He said that bills similar to Utah's were introduced in Missouri and South Carolina this year but didn't make it through their respective senates before their legislatures adjourned. "I think the ALEC endorsement of model legislation will be the little nudge, the impetus to bring it all the way through," he said.
The federalism and international relations task force also considered several proposals aimed at rallying states to convene a convention to amend the U.S. Constitution, and adopted model resolutions for state legislators demanding the United Nations not be allowed to tax the United States and that it not be permitted to regulate the Internet.
ALEC panel pushes smokeless tobacco
States could save thousands of lives if they encourage smokers to kick cigarettes and move to smokeless tobacco, according to a panel Thursday at the American Legislative Exchange Council.
But anti-smoking advocates say the claims that smokeless tobacco is safe are unfounded and concerning.
Utah Sen. Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, backed an ALEC-adopted resolution urging states to tax smokeless tobacco at a lower rate to encourage smokers to choose a lower-risk option, and to provide accurate information about the risks of smokeless tobacco.
Brad Rodu, a dentist and researcher at the University of Louisville, said that smokeless tobacco is 98 percent safer than smoking, eliminating the risk of emphysema, lung cancer and heart disease.
The resolution was crafted in cooperation with tobacco companies, which are allowed to vote on resolutions and bills under ALEC's structure. Rodu acknowledged that his work is funded by tobacco companies, but he said that the financing did not influence his findings.
But Kevin Nelson, a pediatrician at the University of Utah and chairman of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Utah, said that the Institute of Medicine recently issued a report that there would need to be detailed studies not funded by the tobacco industry that show smokeless tobacco works for smoking cessation before doctors begin recommending that course for patients.
Niederhauser said pushing legislation promoting smokeless tobacco in Utah is a difficult task and probably not something he would take on. But, he said, "I think we should be more educated on it so we can make better decisions."