- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 17, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - Senate Republicans approved a series of bills on Tuesday that aim to take over the Arizona’s federal public lands as a new stream of revenue for the state.

The Senate Rural Affairs and Environment Committee passed three bills on a 4-1 vote Tuesday. The bills by Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, and Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, urge, require and demand the federal government transfer all public lands to the state before 2020.

A State Land Department report from 2012 found the federal government owns about 42 percent of Arizona’s land including national parks, historic sites and recreational areas such as the Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon, the Petrified Forest and Montezuma Castle.

Barton’s House Bill 2321 demands the government transfer all public lands to Arizona before Jan. 1, 2020, while Thorpe’s House Bill 2176 requires the federal government turn over all land that does not serve a purpose outlined in the U.S. Constitution.

Barton said the intention of her bill is to create a new revenue stream for the state without disrupting the land’s recreational uses. “The intention is not to sell all the land and pour concrete over everything in Arizona,” she said. “We want to establish the multiple uses of these lands within the state of Arizona.”

Nearly 68 percent of Arizona voters struck down a similar proposition in 2012. Then-Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a separate proposal the same year over concerns about the constitutionality of the law and the effect on people holding leases on federal lands.

Sen. Sylvia Allen, R-Snowflake, who supports the legislation, said the Senate is set to combine Thorpe and Barton’s bills.

Barton’s House Bill 2318 would allow Arizona to join a state compact for the transfer of public lands, which Utah passed last year. The compact would create a commission to secure sovereignty and jurisdiction over Western states’ public lands. The commission has representatives from several Western states, including Alaska, California and Washington.

Opponents of the measures said the federal government can manage the lands better than the state.

Sen. Andrea Dalessandro, D-Green Valley, said she received emails from hunters and nature enthusiasts worried they won’t be able to access the lands if the state takes control. “They’re concerned they will lose access to public lands and that they could be bought up by rich people and only the rich people will be able to access them,” she said.

Sandy Bahr, executive director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, touted the benefits of the public lands including tourism, recreation and watershed values. “They are public lands. They belong to all of us, and they belong to future generations and they do provide huge benefits” she said.

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