By Melissa Taylor
Capital West News
SALT LAKE CITY – A bill that would force a deadline for a lawsuit against the federal government to decide who controls federal land in Utah got a boost in a recent committee meting.
Sen. Jim Dabakis, D- Salt Lake, is the sponsor of SB105, which passed a the Senate natural resources committe Feb. 4. The bill requires the attorney general to file suit over the ownership of 32 million acres of public land that some lawmakers claim to Utah’s.
If the bill is passed through Utah Legislature it would direct a lawsuit be filed that might advance to the U.S. Supreme Court where the ultimate decision of the allocation of the land could be decided.
“I don’t think it’s a partisan issue,” Debakis said. “I think we are in a state of paralysis… because we believe one thing and apparently the [federal government] believe[s] something else.”
For years, there has been tension over who owns the land. “Did you ever try to negotiate with somebody to buy a house when you both think you own the house? It’s a formula for disaster,” Debakis said.
The bill was introduced on the Senate floor Jan 28. And was recommended to the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee. The committee had concerns about the timeline of the bill, which would legally require the attorney general to take action before June 30, 2015.
“I’m very favorable of this bill,” Committee Chair Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Davis, Weber, said. “I can’t vote for it the way it is right now but if you were to change that date from 2015 to 2016, I’d vote for it . . . I just think six months isn’t long enough.”
The committee voted to amend the bill, pushing the June 2015 deadline back one year.
There has been continued debate between Utahns over the timeframe, budget, and details of SB105. Utah citizens have attended committee meetings to voice both concerns and support for the bill.
“The idea of moving forward with litigation is a perfectly reasonable one but I do have great concern and I do object to the idea that the legislature would direct a filing on something that may not yet be timely,” Adam Tripp, a representative for the Utah Association of Counties, said.
Sterling Brown, representing the Utah Farm Bureau, asked a question that many other Utahns are asking about the bill.
“Has the state done all we can given the limited resources we have to align the stars to go into that courtroom to give it our best shot, or are we jumping the gun with this bill?”
On the other half of the debate, Utah residents are tired of the ongoing tension and indecision of land ownership.
“I can imagine chair Jenkins’ great grandchildren being in here, in this same hearing room… talking about the same issue,” Debakis said. “I think as a state, it’s time that we face the bullet of getting a decision.”
Redge Johnson attended the committee meeting Feb. 4 to voice his opinion on the issue.
“When you have certain states with 2% of their lands in federal ownership and you have other states with 80% federal ownership, that’s not fair and that’s not just,” Johnson said.
The committee reconvened on Feb. 4 where SB105 was given favorable recommendation with four out of six votes. The bill was placed on the second reading calendar Feb. 6 and will go on to be reviewed and debated on the Senate floor. SB105 is still subject to be amended or substituted, and must receive a constitutional majority of at least 15 Senator’s votes in order to proceed to its third and final hearing.