After a long, work-induced hiatus from blogging, Utah Political Summary returns today with some brief commentary on H.B. 351, a bill sponsored by Representative Ken Ivory.
H.B. 351 is part of our legislature’s ongoing effort to step federal government meddling in local government by preemptive state meddling in local government. Specifically, it’s a response to Executive Order 13575 (“EO13575″), which was issued by President Obama last June and creates a White House Rural Council (“WHRC”) to “enhance Federal engagement with rural communities.”
The WHRC would be chaired by a representative of the Department of Agriculture, comprised of a representative of every other federal department, and tasked with the mission of “coordinat[ing] development of policy recommendations to promote economic prosperity and quality of life in rural America,” and “coordinate[ing] [the Obama] Administration’s engagement with rural communities.”
Specifically, the WHRC will:
- Make recommendations to President Obama on how to streamline and leverage the impact of federal investment dollars in rural communities;
- Coordinate and increase the effectiveness of federal engagement with rural America’s stakeholders; and
- Identify and facilitate rural energy development, outdoor recreation and conservation-related opportunities.
On its face, EO13575 appears to be nothing more than an attempt to coordinate efforts across departments, to make the administration’s “rural policy” more cohesive and effective.
But it’s got Representative Ivory up in arms. In fact, he refers to it on his Facebook page as an order creating “White House zoning and planning authority over all ‘rural America.’” So he’s crafted H.B. 351 — a legislative response consistent with his apparent alarm.
Representative Ivory’s bill, which was passed out of committee on February 27, 2012, would require any “department or agency of the state” that wants to implement a “directive” of the White House Rural Council created by EO13575, to file a report to the legislature’s Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee containing the following information:
(3) (a) The report required under Subsection (1)(a) shall include:
(i) the directive from the White House Rural Council; and
(ii) a description of:
(A) the requirements imposed by the directive and how the agency would implement the directive;
(B) the effect of implementing or not implementing the directive;
(C) the cost to the state or its citizens of implementing the directive; and
(D) the consequences to the state if the state does not comply with the directive.
(b) The report required under Subsection (1) may include an analysis by the agency or department that addresses whether a directive from the White House Rural Council:
(i) affects the distribution of power and responsibility among the state and national government;
(ii) limits the policymaking discretion of the state;
(iii) impacts a power or a right reserved to the state or its citizens by the Ninth or Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution; or
(iv) impacts the sovereignty rights and interest of the state or a political subdivision to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of, and to promote the prosperity of, the state’s or the political subdivision’s citizens.
The required report is designed to give the legislature an opportunity to legislate in opposition to the “directive,” if it so chooses. In fact, after receiving the report from the “department or agency of the state,” the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee can recommend to the legislature that it enact legislation that either specifically authorizes or prohibits compliance with the “directive.”
The supreme irony in the whole situation? Representative Ivory’s bill would be codified at Utah Code Ann. 63M-1-1607 et seq., as part of Utah’s already existing Rural Development Program, which is operated out of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development through the Office of Rural Development, which in conjunction with the Rural Coordinating Committee, provides support to the Governor’s Rural Partnership Board.
And the mission of the state’s Rural Development Program? Here’s a bulleted list:
- Facilitate within the Governor’s Office of Economic Development implementation of the strategic plan;
- Work to enhance the capacity of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to address rural economic development, planning, and leadership training challenges and opportunities by establishing partnerships and positive working relationships with appropriate public and private sector entities, individuals, and institutions;
- Work with the Rural Coordinating Committee to coordinate and focus available resources in ways that address the economic development, planning, and leadership training challenges and priorities in rural Utah; and
- Coordinate relations between the state, rural governments, public/private groups engaged in rural economic planning and development, and federal agencies.
I think it’s pretty clear that Representative Ivory sees the White House Rural Council as another front on the war over western state lands. Perhaps it is. I don’t know. But there’s nothing in EO13575 or the duties set out for the WHRC authorizing it to make “directives” to local governments, and certainly nothing in it that authorizes it to engage in nationwide zoning.
President Obama, like other Presidents before him, undoubtedly has a “plan” for rural America, and will go about implementing his “plan” in whatever way he can, including, presumably, by conditioning the receipt of federal funds on local governments implementing plan objectives. But it’s questionable whether such “incentives” can fairly be characterized as “directives.” Thus, to have any effect, it appears that Representative Ivory’s bill would require all “departments or agencies of the state,” any time they want to implement a suggestion or recommendation originating from the WHRC, to first create a burdensome report for the state legislature. This is turf-war level of micromanagement that would do the most overreaching federal agency proud.
Now, Representative Ivory may believe that the Constitution grants the state exclusive authority to make recommendations to local governments and rural America. After all, Article II of the Constitution is pretty sparse . . . . But at some point, he, and the other members of the Utah GOP’s club of constitutional crusaders need to contemplate the extent to which their near myopic obsession over their own version of constitutional federalism is turning them is seriously undermining their core conservative governing principles.
If President Obama issues an order emanating from the WHRC that unconstitutionally dictates to rural Utahns what they may or may not do, then legislate against it or fight it in court as appropriate. But why borrow trouble and micromanage just out of antipathy toward one particular administration? President Obama will eventually leave office, the WHRC he created will be dissolved, and a Republican will be elected President again . . . but legislation persists. H.B. 351 is unnecessary, misguided, and not worth our legislature’s time.