House passes bill granting cities, counties eminent domain over federal lands

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2012 3:53 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Gearing up for a fight with the federal government over public lands, Republican state lawmakers voted Monday to add what they see as another weapon in their arsenal.

The Utah House overwhelmingly approved HB511, which would extend eminent domain authority of federal land to cities and counties. The Legislature granted the state that power in 2009. The measure is one of several states rights bills this session.

"This is a very simple bill with certain huge implications," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Ken Sumsion, R-American Fork. "The implications are that we could bring trillions of dollars into our economy."

Republicans say Utah has been wrongly denied its ability to control land within its borders since statehood, putting it on unequal footing with other states. The federal government owns nearly 70 percent of the land in the state.

"We have pilfered our rights away like a slab of bologna one slice at a time," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab. "We get a pittance from that land."

Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake, said the state is using scarce resources to challenge the federal government over an issue it's not likely to win. He said the state is placing a bet on "this mirage to fund public education."

"It's highly probable that this whole argument is going to go down in flames sooner or later," he said.

Rep. Chris Herrod, R-Provo, said it's time to decide between sagebrush and children. "We need to make sure we push back on every avenue that we can, because frankly the federal government is not there for us," he said.

Sumsion said the idea of the bill is to get the best usage out of the land. HB511 now goes to the Senate for consideration.

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