SALT LAKE CITY — A bill aimed at arming state officials with key data in a land fight with the federal government has cleared a key House committee.
Members of House Natural Resources Committee voted unanimously Friday morning to forward HB 142 to the House for further consideration.
Sponsored by Rep. Roger Barrus, R-Centerville, the measure charges the state Public Land Policy Coordinating Office with the responsibility of conducting a study and economic analysis of the transfer of certain federal lands to state ownership.
The study and analysis is considered a key factor in pushing forward a confrontation over the federal land issue.
The federal government owns more than 67 percent of the land in Utah, and in 2011, lawmakers initiated a series of measures to try to force the federal government to turn those lands over to the state.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, who sponsored the measure to initiate the process in 2011, reminded lawmakers that power never concedes anything without a demand.
He said lawmakers are ready to legislate and then litigate, if necessary, to gain control of federal lands, similar to what Eastern states enjoy.
Rep. Stephen Handy, R-Layton, was among the lawmakers who gave the bill a favorable recommendation in committee.
From Handy’s viewpoint, Utah’s getting control of its own lands is the only significant solution to the state’s educational funding problem.
“As we methodically move forward to whatever is at the end of the road, we need to move to the end of the road. This is the only solution big enough to solve some of these economic challenges, particularly regarding education in this state,” Handy said.
Barrus said he is encouraged by growing support from Utah’s western neighbors for the land takeover.
Not every lawmaker is confident the effort will be successful.
Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, worried aloud about what the end result of the initiative will be.
“I like the idea, the concept, the idea of gaining state supervision of the lands within our boundaries and managing them more effectively,” he said.
“It requires a huge shift in federal policy, but how likely is it we can accomplish the objective of this endeavor?”
Rep. Jack Draxler, R-North Logan, urged Barrus and key figures in the land fight to be more proactive in educating the public on the issue.
“Our constituents only hear we are jumping up and down and saying, ‘Give us our land,’ and don’t realize this thoughtful, forward thinking going on here,” he said.
“We are looking forward, this is smart, this isn’t empty demands.”