Governor Doug Ducey has until the end of April 15 to decide the fate of four important bills. Though each is different in its specific intention and scope, when taken together, they depict a Legislature determined to control -- and often make money off -- every parcel of federal land in Arizona.
1. HB 2176: demands the State Land Commissioner put pressure on the federal government to give up the title to all public lands in Arizona and requires the state Attorney General take legal action if the transfer doesn't occur by January 1, 2022. While Arizona wouldn't claim title to national parks, Indian reservations, federal buildings or military installations, it would acquire all U.S. Bureau of Land Management holdings, national forests, wilderness areas, wildlife refuges, national monuments and national historic sites.
The purported goal of this bill is to raise money for state institutions and programs -- including schools -- by selling or land or through grazing leases. Critics have dubbed this the "land-grab bill," and point out that in 2012, not only was a similar bill vetoed by the governor, but the citizens of Arizona rejected the proposal when it came up as a ballot question.
See also: AZ Senate Advances "Land Grab" Bills
2. HB 2318: adopts Utah's 2014 interstate compact on the transfer of public lands, the purpose of which "is to restore, protect, and promote state sovereignty and health, safety, and welfare of the citizens within the boundaries of these states by developing strategies for securing federally controlled public lands." At stipulated in Utah's laws, the compact becomes effective when at least two states have signed on, and Congress approves it.
As with HB 2176, the purpose of this legislation is to help facilitate the transfer the title of federal lands to the state of Arizona.
3. HB 2658: establishes the Transfer of Federal Lands Study Committee, which would be "required to examine processes to transfer, manage, and dispose of federal lands within Arizona." There is plenty of language in the bill about managing lands responsibly and prudently, but as we've written about before, critics of these bills say Arizona has a poor track record when it comes to land management.
4. HB 2175: gives the state authority to exercise legal "rights-of-way" access across public lands, which put simply, means that the state or a county can build or expand highways, railroads, trails, canals, power lines, and gas lines, etc. over or under public lands.
Supporters say this law would help cattle and utility interests' access to grazing land and natural resources by building new roads (or other transportation mechanisms) and preventing unnecessary road closures. Opponents, like the Sierra Club, warn that this bill will end up "[harming] important protected lands [like] national parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas," because federal agencies don't close roadways arbitrarily.
"Closures and delayed openings happen for many reasons," explains the U.S. Forest Service website. Some closures are "for safety while crews work to remove hazard trees, some [are] due to weather and others [are] due to damage, repairs or maintenance."
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When the Governor's Office was asked about the status of this bill, spokesman Daniel Scarpinato responded in an e-mail: "We are working through more than 100 bills on the Governor's desk right now. [I] don't know when we will get to that one, but we have not yet."
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