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Lawmakers are considering a bill that would require the state attorney general to file a lawsuit aimed at forcing a quick resolution to Utah's public-lands fight.
Salt Lake City Democratic Sen. Jim Dabakis is no friend of the public-lands-transfer movement, but he wants the question settled "so we can move on with our lives," he told the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Committee Monday.
Dabakis' bill would require Attorney General Sean Reyes to file a suit aimed at getting a court-ordered end to Utah's decades-long fight with the federal government over control of millions of acres of public land.
Nearly three years ago, Utah legislators passed a law demanding the feds hand over 31 million acres by Dec. 31, 2014.
As expected, the government ignored that demand and the state now is spending $2 million to hire outside lawyers to craft a political and legal strategy to accomplish the goal. The fight may very well involve a costly lawsuit.
"We talk about being the best-managed state," Dabakis told his colleagues. "If [Utah] was run like a business, this is how it would happen. If there is one thing that throws a wrench into a small business, it's lawsuits. Most would agree if they can be avoided, they ought to."
He believes a negotiated settlement is the only solution, but that is unlikely in a political climate where both sides claim primacy.
Litigation over land transfer appears unavoidable, and Dabakis believes his bill will get the pain over sooner rather than later.
SB105 would require the attorney general to "file a petition in federal court on behalf of the state demanding a determination on the issue of ownership of public lands" by July 1.
Critics pointed out the constitutional separation-of-powers issue that would arise from the Legislature instructing an executive branch agency what to do. They also said the bill's six-month time frame is too short and Reyes should be allowed to decide when and where any suit is filed.
But committee chairman Scott Jenkins, a land-transfer supporter from Plain City, liked Dabakis' proposal. Jenkins asked him to extend the deadline for filing the action by at least a year.
Dabakis agreed to revise the bill, which will be reviewed again by the committee.