There are two pieces of legislation pending in Carson City whose intention is allow the state to take control of at least some of the federal land that constitute about 87 percent of the land inside the state boundaries.
It’s label reads: “Urging Congress to enact legislation transferring title to certain public lands to the State of Nevada in accordance with the report prepared by the Nevada Land Management Task Force.”
That task force estimates the state could generate far more revenue from control of the public land the paltry sums doled out be Washington in the form of pay in lieu of taxes.
SJR1 calls for the state over the next decade taking control of 7.2 million acres of the 48 million acres the feds now control.
But slated for a hearing by the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining Tuesday afternoon is a more brazen attempt to grab federal lands, Assembly Bill 408, whose chief sponsor is Assembly member Michele Fiore.
The label on this bill reads:
“AN ACT relating to public lands; prohibiting the Federal Government from owning or regulating certain public lands or the right to use public waters; requiring the State Land Registrar to adopt regulations that provide for the appropriation and registration of grazing, logging, mineral development or other beneficial use rights on public lands; requiring the State Land Registrar to sell permits for grazing, logging, mineral development or other beneficial uses on public lands for which such rights are not registered and appropriated; requiring the board of county commissioners of each county to impose a tax on profits from the beneficial use of public lands; and providing other matters properly relating thereto.”
Considering how the courts have traditionally given deference to the supremacy of the federal government rather that the 10th Amendment states’ rights, the bill is viewed by many as a futile gesture.
This is the case, even though the Constitution says Congress only has the power: “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be, for the Erection of Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards, and other needful Buildings …”
But a number of lawmakers, including a few of its sponsors, are also questioning some of the details in bill, fearing the language could jeopardize long held water and grazing rights.
It is that phrasing about beneficial use that concerns people. Could a failure to graze a given tract during a drought constitute giving up a grazing right, since it was not put to beneficial use? What about competing uses for the same tract of land?
The bill’s language includes: “Provide for the appropriation of grazing, logging, mineral development or other beneficial use rights on public lands: (a) To the first person who used the land for which the rights are claimed and who continues to use the land for that purpose; or (b) If the land for which the rights are claimed has not been used in the manner for which the rights are claimed, to the first person who claims the rights. 2. Establish procedures by which claims to such rights may be registered with the State Land Registrar. Each right must be identified by priority date, the manner in which the land is being used, the geographic boundaries of the land being used and the person who claims the right.”
The devil may be in the details.