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This week, the Republican presidential primary election   dominated the  news. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) waltzed to victory in Idaho, attracting some  votes on the basis of his proposal to privatize our public lands.

While Idaho proponents of a public lands takeover assure us that the lands would never be sold, the silence was resounding in response to Sen. Cruz’s preference for selling off Idaho’s and America’s natural heritage-places like the Sawtooths, Selkirks and and Salmon River Mountains.

As we enter what we hope are the final weeks of the Legislature,  some eyebrow-raising bills are popping out of the woodwork. Among them  are several new measures seeking to seize public lands.

Public Lands in the Crosshairs

Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) introduced two new bills (HB 582 and HB 586) that seek to enforce the “promise” made at the time of statehood to grant lands to the state. Idaho’s founding documents clearly state the opposite-that we “forever disclaimed” these public lands. The reality is that, no matter how hard it tries, the Idaho Legislature doesn’t have any authority over federally administered public lands in Idaho.

Former Governors Oppose Public Lands Takeover

Five Idaho governors  attended a ceremony to celebrate Idaho Day last week in the Statehouse.  Former Govs. Cecil Andrus and Jim Risch brought up public lands. During  his speech, Gov. Andrus said it best, “I love those lands, and I  want to see them continue so that my children, my grandchildren, and my  great-grandchildren and their children have the same opportunity to  benefit from those lands as I do today.” Sen. Risch (R-ID) agreed and proclaimed, “The United States Congress is not going to part with title to that property.” We hope you’re right, Senator!

Resolution for Public Access Introduced

It wasn’t all bad this week. Rep. Mat Erpelding (D-Boise) introduced a bipartisan resolution expressing support for continued public access on state lands, something for which the Legislature does have oversight. The resolution is in direct response to a billionaire hunting club in eastern Idaho that hopes to post No Trespassing signs on state lands for European-style bird hunts.

Bills Moves to Senate

The bill to restrict local decision making on plastic bags, bottles and styrofoam containers was approved by the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, despite opposition from the Idaho Association of Counties, Idaho Association of Cities, and constituents.

Senate Approves Public Nuisance Bill

On Monday, the Senate approved the public nuisance bill on a party-line vote. The bill would allow counties to declare federally administered public lands a nuisance and demand an abatement plan. If land managers fail to respond, counties have indicated their intent to sue.

The measure undermines not only the state’s efforts to enter into  cooperative agreements with public land managers but also collaborative efforts underway to promote restoration of our public lands. It now heads to the House.

Tie of the Week!

As the Legislature moves toward adjournment, I’m happy to partake in a tradition that dates back three decades.  Lobbyists and members of the press corps (and even legislators  themselves) break out ugly ties to encourage the legislators to  wrap up their duties and head home. While at least two weeks may still  remain in the session, it’s never too early to bust out some ugly ties from my closet…is it?

Until next week. Esto perpetua…