SALT LAKE CITY -- Legislators will learn from the mistakes of others before taking on the federal government over control of federal lands within the state, several local lawmakers say about current efforts to address the issue.
Local lawmakers suggest they have looked at a Supreme Court ruling against Nevada over federal land within its boundaries, as well as other issues, in trying to craft the right legal approach for potential litigation involving the 67 percent of land within the state that the federal government owns.
In a Monday morning briefing with members of the Davis Chamber of Commerce, Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said he expects the Senate will approve several bills addressing federal lands before the session ends Thursday, including a focused legal approach on how to potentially litigate the issue.
The Senate has yet to vote on HB 148, which has already passed the House.
"If you take the wrong course and lose, you have case law working against you. We'll take the most-probable-outcome course," Adams said.
Several local lawmakers addressed the action by Nevada, in the 1990s, to take over federal land, a move that ended up in the Supreme Court.
The Utah lawmakers claim they will take a different approach. That focused approach comes even after legal counsel from the Legislature has suggested some of the land measures may be unconstitutional.
"Nevada said, 'We just claim the land.' It certainly didn't go well with the Supreme Court. We're working on a legal solution, if we can't find a political one," said Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville.
Besides looking at past legal action, Barrus said he also has consulted with former U.S. Rep. Jim Hansen, of Farmington, who chaired the Committee on Resources.
Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, said several Davis County legislators also met with Sen. Orrin Hatch for 45 minutes about the issue.
One legal approach the state considered was taxing the federal land and then imposing a lien when those taxes aren't paid, Barrus said.
He said he met with the Senate caucus last week and with an official from the state attorney general's office before deciding a different course should be pursued.
Barrus said the federal government is losing money in its efforts to oversee federal land in the West.
A poor economy and mounting debt could actually work in the favor of the state on the issue, he said.
"What you're hearing me say is, the state of Utah is determined we are going to see a change on this," Barrus said of the current setup.
He said the legislation has nothing to do with chest thumping -- it has to do with fairness and sovereignty.
Rep. Stuart Barlow, R-Fruit Heights, said the federal government's ongoing losses in trying to manage federal lands in the West have led to defining the management issues as "Western welfare."
He said the state can do a better job of managing the land than the federal government can.