Utah lawmakers want to study the intricacies and economic impact of the state taking over and managing tens of millions of acres of public lands that it has demanded the federal government relinquish.
“Really we need to understand what is there,” said Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville. “We’ll finally have an understanding of all the complexities and inter-relatedness of all of the public lands in Utah.”
The analysis Barrus wants performed in HB142 would cost $450,000 and, he said, serve to inform the discussion of how the state could manage the land currently in federal control.
Last year, the state gave Congress a deadline of December 2014 to turn over tens of millions of acres of federal land to the state.
After spending a year studying the impacts of such a shift, it was determined a more detailed analysis was needed. HB142, establishing the study, passed the House on Wednesday with one dissenting vote.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, supported the bill, saying he is confident it would show the folly of the state’s effort.
“Having chosen unwisely and chosen to engage in unconstitutional conduct,” King said, the state should understand the cost of managing the federal lands. “This will all be seen as a waste and in the meantime our school kids, who need more than anything funding for their public and higher education, will continue to be neglected.”
Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, argued that attorneys have made a case that Utah has a right to the federal lands and called it “one of the most important pieces of legislation.”
“It really bothers me when people sit down and say we ought to be moderate and we ought to negotiate. That time has long passed,” Noel said.
The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.
A House Committee also approved Wednesday, HB131, authorizing creation of a new Federalism Commission, intended to flag areas where the federal government is treading on Utah’s sovereignty and push back against the unwanted intrusions on issues like land management and gun issues.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, said that, the federal government has “metastasized” into areas that were once the realm of the states, but those areas need to be more clearly defined.
“We can’t defend jurisdiction we don’t know,” said Ivory.
Ivory said that once the Federalism Commission defines the boundaries of federal authority, the state can work through the Legislature or federal congressional delegation to address overreaches when they occur.
The bill passed the House Government Operations Committee and goes to the full body for consideration.