Bill proposed aimed at ending public lands dispute

Posted at 10:03 PM, Feb 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-03 00:03:59-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- The public lands fight in Utah landed at the Capitol on Monday, where lawmakers considered a proposal aimed at ending the dispute with a lawsuit.

Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, brought the bill before the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Committee.  It would require the state attorney general to file a petition in federal court, demanding the court decides who controls Utah’s public lands -- Utah or the federal government.

“For 40 years, there’s been a war,” Dabakis said. “The feds say it’s their 32 million acres. The state says, ‘No way, it’s our 32 million acres.’”

The bill would set a deadline of six months for the attorney general’s office, which according to Dabakis, should be enough time given how long the state has been dealing with the issue.

“The state is unwilling to actually take on the big enchilada,” Dabakis said. “Let’s get this case before the Supreme Court, and for once and for all let’s solve it.”

Utah lawmakers had previously passed a law that required the government to turn over the 32 million acres by Dec. 31, 2014.  However, that date came and went with no action.

According to one of its biggest proponents, Dabakis’ new timeline for the state doesn’t necessarily help their case.

“It really is kind of a ready, shoot, aim approach,” said Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan.

Ivory and other lawmakers are hoping to work with Congress over the coming months to start resolving the dispute, but he concedes litigation will likely be inevitable in a couple years.

“We want to give that chance for that process to work here, rather than arbitrarily setting a deadline that we have to file litigation,” Ivory said. “Now, with the change in Congress, we’ve got members of Congress that are beginning to work with us, and they’re standing up and saying we want to start having hearings, we want to start flushing this out.”

The committee tabled Dabakis’ bill Monday, in order to give him an opportunity to extend the deadline to 18 months.

“Once we have completion, once we wrap it up, then we’ll be in a position to solve a lot of the problems in the state,” Dabakis said.

FOX13 reached out to the state attorney general's office for comment on this story, but did not hear back Monday evening.