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Bill Seeks to Take Public Lands Dispute to U.S. Supreme Court

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Brian Grimmett/KUER
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Utah Senate Chamber/File Photo

State lawmakers are considering a bill that would require the Utah Attorney General to appeal directly to the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the longstanding argument over who owns Utah’s public lands.

Senate Bill 105 gives Utah’s Attorney General until June of this year to file a petition in federal court. Democratic State Senator Jim Dabakis of Salt Lake is sponsoring the legislation. He presented it to the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Standing Committee Monday. He said the state needs to know with certainty who owns the 32-plus million acres in dispute.

“So we’ve had this long strategy of fighting a skirmish here, fighting a skirmish there, starting lawsuits, trying to sit down and negotiate with the federal government,” Dabakis said. “But did you ever try to negotiate with somebody to buy a house when you both think you own the house?”

Republican Senator Allen Christensen and others agreed to support the bill if Dabakis modified it to give the attorney general more time to file the petition.

“I see your bill as a good bill,” Christensen said. “It’s an alternative path. It doesn’t say the rest of the proceedings should come to a halt. IT says this is another way we’re going to try and get this resolved.”

Dabakis told committee members that he will consider altering the language of the bill and reintroducing it. Legislators passed a law in 2012 demanding the federal government relinquish control of public lands to the state.

The Utah Attorney General’s office did not respond to a request for comment. 

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