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Bountiful • They stepped gingerly through the icy parking lot, past idling cars trickling out smoke from tailpipes and keeping an eye out to avoid the especially slick spots. But once inside, warmed by a combination of indoor heating and a crowd of about 50 like-minded people crammed into the American Legion post, they settled in on a recent evening and let the issue of illegal immigration bring them to a boil.

They were frustrated and plotting a path forward.

These activists for tough illegal immigration laws lost the fight in the Legislature last year, with passage of a state-based guest-worker law. And the enforcement-only law they liked was repeatedly watered down and is now in federal court facing a possible injunction.

This year, there appears to be limited desire among lawmakers to revive the issue on Capitol Hill.

Gov. Gary Herbert made no mention of immigration in his State of the State speech. Senate President Michael Waddoups didn't say a word about it during his opening remarks. Neither did House Speaker Becky Lockhart.

And Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo, who was tapped last session to deliver a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, said he hasn't had any conversations on the issue.

"Last year, there were a number of immigration bills worked on before the session that brought stakeholders from all sides and were engaged in the dialogue," Bramble said. "I have not yet seen that level of activity up through the first week of the session."

Battle ahead • Seemingly aware of the uphill fight in the Legislature, opponents of the Utah guest worker bill — HB116 — are formulating a game plan beyond the session, looking at electing party delegates at mid-March neighborhood caucuses to drive the issue at the state and county GOP conventions, where out-of-favor incumbent lawmakers could face committed challengers for the party's nominations.

Keri Witte, who spearheaded a successful drive to pass resolutions at several conventions last year that proposed repealing or replacing HB116, said it's a matter of doing what is the will of the people.

"We hold our legislators accountable," she said. "You can repeal or replace the bill or we can repeal and replace the legislators."

Ron Mortensen, co-founder of the Utah Coalition on Illegal Immigration, said his group is also taking a more passive approach during the session, with a focus on upcoming elections.

But Bramble questioned the approach — saying those who opposed HB116 aren't likely to glean new information on where lawmakers stand on immigration this time around.

"Do you really think I could run away from HB116?" Bramble asked.

Waddoups said he expects to see some bills rise through the Legislature — including an attempt to repeal the driving privilege card and an outright repeal of HB116. The former has been attempted several times without success.

But he said the move to try to change laws that haven't yet taken effect struck him as curious given the guest worker law doesn't go into effect until July 2013. He also wondered why anti-HB116 activists would expect a different outcome given the makeup of the Legislature hasn't markedly changed since 2011.

"Most of the laws haven't even gone into effect yet and we don't really know what the impact of what was passed last year is," Waddoups said. "We haven't received a lot of information that's convincing there was a problem with what we did. Until we have some empirical evidence — some on the street if you will — of problems that have arisen from it, I don't see any reason to do away with it."

Message sent • Opponents to what Utah passed in 2011 are also running up against lawmakers who don't have an appetite to change what the state became known for nationally.

After Utah passed a series of immigration bills — bipartisan and comprehensive — it inspired other states to draft compacts and resulted in two national immigration forums being hosted in Salt Lake City — including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, said if Utah were to significantly change what it did in 2011, it would send a bad message.

He also said it would be deflating to the Legislature.

"Too much time. Too much energy. Too much heart went into it last year to erase it all," Litvack said. "We sent a message to the rest of the country showing you could pass bipartisan, comprehensive reform. Was it perfect? No. But Utah showed the way. And then to turn around and say, 'Never mind'?"

But Lockhart said some lawmakers appear determined to make a stand on the issue. And as "a process person," she said she's not going to block their efforts.

"The activity and motivation around making the changes are coming from a small group," Lockhart said. "The vast majority of the rest — there's not a lot of activity or appetite."

However, the process has started. Rep. Chris Herrod's stab at replacing HB116 was made public last week. And Rep. Stephen Sandstorm, R-Orem, will take a shot at passing employer sanctions through E-Verify when he launches his bill in coming days.

Twitter: @davemontero