A bill aimed at settling the public lands debate in Utah once and for all cleared committee on Tuesday and is headed to a vote in the Utah Legislature.
SB 105 would give Attorney General Sean Reyes until June 30, 2016 to file a lawsuit for federally owned lands in the state. Utah has long claimed ownership of more than 30 million acres of public lands it says the federal government does not have a legal right to.
Salt Lake City Democratic Senator Jim Dabakis is a sponsor of the bill. Though he is opposed to the state taking control of the lands, he said his own opinions are irrelevant when it comes to the piece of legislation.
“This has nothing to do with an opinion on who ought to own those 32 million acres of land. It just says Utah is paralyzed in a lot of ways because it can’t decide—we don’t know who owns the land, so all this does is put some finality into our future,” Dabakis said.
He added that he expects the bill to pass a vote in both the state Senate and House with bipartisan support. He thinks having the Supreme Court decide on the issue, one way or another, will help politicians on both sides of the aisle.
“It asks the Supreme Court to make that decision so that we as a state can move on with our life,” Dabakis said.
The bill would force the Attorney General’s Office to end a long and expensive legal battle over the lands, Dabakis said.
“The attorney general doesn’t want to do this because maybe they’re afraid of what the outcome is going to be, maybe the attorney general doesn’t want to be attorney general when the Supreme Court decides against the state of Utah, maybe it’s added money to his office to keep these lawsuits going on eternally,” Dabakis said. “I don’t know why the attorney general’s office is opposed to a very obvious solution.”
No one from Reyes’ office was available for comment before the publishing of this article.