BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Legislation to create a panel of Idaho lawmakers to assist residents and state agencies on federal lands issues passed the state House Tuesday and is headed to the Senate.
The House voted 55-15 to approve the plan to create the Council on Federal Lands put forward by Republican Rep. Judy Boyle.
The federal government manages about 62 percent, or 51,000 square miles (132,000 square kilometers), within Idaho. The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service approve grazing permits, logging contracts and mining operations.
“Our executive branch and our legislative branch, no way have we even come close to spending 62 percent of our time on this huge landmass with all of its natural resources,” Boyle told fellow lawmakers. “This council will just give us a focused seat at the table.”
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Democratic Rep. John Gannon questioned the estimated cost to taxpayers of $10,000 to $15,000 annually since the council will be authorized to hire attorneys. He pointed out that a previous committee looking at transferring federal lands to Idaho spent $90,000 on attorney fees.
Such costs must be approved by leadership in the House and Senate, Boyle said. Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke voted to approve the bill.
Republican Rep. Dorothy Moon spoke in favor of the bill.
“I think it’s a drop in the bucket what this council would require to actually coordinate and make sure state agencies are represented in these federal issues,” she said.
Democratic Minority Leader Mat Erpelding said the council would infringe on the duties of Gov. Brad Little’s office.
“The executive branch needs to make sure that they’re effectively contracting and our job is to effectively oversight that,” he said. “I just think that this muddies the waters.”
The committee would be comprised of four senators and four representatives. Democratic Rep. Ilana Rubel noted the bill contained no guarantee that the committee would include members from the minority party.
Boyle said she couldn’t imagine the committee not including Democrats.