- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 11, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - The House pushed legislation this week to strengthen state sovereignty and push back against what Republicans consider federal encroachment on states’ rights.

Arizona’s Republican-dominated Legislature has led annual efforts to increase the state’s sovereignty. This year, Republicans have an extra tool to aid them in their pursuit - voter-approved Proposition 122 - which passed in November and allows the state to opt out of federal laws deemed unconstitutional by the voters or the Legislature.

On Wednesday, the House gave initial approval to two sovereignty bills sponsored by Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff.

House Bill 2058 would block state funding for any federal rule or regulation that Congress has not passed. House Bill 2055 aims to stop state and local governments from enforcing or cooperating with the Environmental Protections Agency’s proposed changes to U.S. water rules under the Clean Water Act.

Thorpe said he’s trying to ensure that Congress and the president enact laws and not delegate to federal agencies the authority to create rules affecting the states. “It’s time that we start pushing back and reaffirm that it’s Congress and the president who should be enacting laws,” Thorpe said in committee.

The House also passed a bill by Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, to stop state and local governments from using financial resources to enforce and implement the Affordable Care Act. The bill by passed on a 36-21 vote and now moves to the Senate.

House Bill 2643 would not affect those enrolled in the program, but it is designed to prevent future legislation that would establish a state exchange, Olson said.

Rep. Bruce Wheeler, D-Tucson, said both Olson and Thorpe’s bills violate the U.S. Constitution’s supremacy clause, which says federal law is the supreme law of the land. Wheeler said the bills would result in lawsuits at the expense of Arizona taxpayers.

While certain measures work to limit state spending on federal policies, other Republican bills are devising new streams of revenue, including taking over Arizona’s federal public lands.

On Tuesday, the House passed several proposals orchestrating the transfer of federal public lands to the state. The bills by Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, and Thorpe urge, require and demand the federal government transfer all public lands to the state before 2020.

Voters struck down a similar proposition in 2012. Then-Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the proposal over concerns about “the lack of certainty this legislation could create for individuals holding existing leases on federal lands.”

House Bill 2321 demands the government transfer all public lands to Arizona before Jan. 1, 2020. House Bill 2176 by Thorpe requires the federal government relinquish all land that “does not serve a purpose enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.”

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.

The bills passed along party lines, and they now move to the Senate.

The Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon chapter said the federal government is better able to manage the lands.

“The people of Arizona really support public lands, and the public lands provide a lot to us with tourism, with recreation and water shed values. And it’s one of the things that makes Arizona special,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter.

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