- Associated Press - Thursday, April 9, 2015

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) - A Nevada Assembly committee voted Thursday to pass a gutted version of a public lands bill that was supported by southern Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy but was considered unconstitutional by the Legislature’s staff lawyers.

The original version of AB408 prohibited the federal government from owning water rights and wide swaths of public land within the state’s borders, and it would have allowed county commissions to parcel out the land for commercial use. The rewritten bill clarifies the commonly accepted idea that sheriffs are the primary law enforcement officers in unincorporated areas of counties.

“The previous language had significant constitutional concerns,” Republican committee Chairwoman Robin Titus said. “We need to respect and honor the people who give us advice.”

Bundy, who was involved in a standoff with federal Bureau of Land Management agents last spring over unpaid grazing fees, came to Carson City with scores of supporters to back the bill. He has said he doesn’t recognize federal authority on the land near Bunkerville that his family settled and has used since the late 1870s, and he urged more state and county control over the lands.

The state’s legislative counsel bureau said the federal government, which manages more than 80 percent of land within Nevada borders, has clear authority to own the property. The bureau said the bill would be struck down if challenged in court for attempting to put state law ahead of federal law.



Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, however, said she disagreed with that finding “100 percent.”

Assemblyman John Ellison, a Republican co-sponsor, said a more viable way to accomplish the goal of transferring federal lands to the state was to encourage Congress to take action. Other measures working their way through the Legislature take that route.

But Ellison said the new language might have helped situations like Bundy’s. The Bureau of Land Management should have sought permission from the sheriff before enforcing the law on property within the county, Ellison said, and the revised bill clarifies the hierarchy.

“Different authorities have overstepped their boundaries,” Ellison said. “The sheriff has got the ruling authority.”

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