Committee passes watered down federal lands bill

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With almost no discussion, the Assembly Natural Resources, Mining and Agriculture Committee capitulated on the bill seeking to claim ownership of all federal lands in Nevada.

The panel headed by Dr. Robin Titus, R-Smith Valley, amended out all of the language the Legislative Counsel had said was unconstitutional, replacing it with what amounts to a suggestion local sheriffs enter agreements with federal agencies for enforcement on federal lands.

The original language said federal officials have no authority on federal public lands in Nevada, claimed ownership of those lands and all water rights. It said the federal government had to specifically ask and receive state permission to claim title to public lands and get state or local permission to do anything including enforcing the law on those lands.

The new language strips out all the language about the state claiming to own federal public lands. Instead, it says the sheriff “may” enter an agreement with federal law enforcement in which the sheriff and his deputies are primarily responsible for law enforcement on federal land. And requires the agreement, “provides that the federal agency recognizes the sheriff as the primary law enforcement authority on the land managed by the federal agency.”

But nothing in federal law says federal agents need state permission to act on federal lands and nothing says any federal agency has to recognize the county sheriff as the primary law enforcement authority on those lands.

Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, D-Las Vegas, objected to the motion to amend and do-pass AB408 just minutes after receiving the new language.

“I’m totally uncomfortable voting on something I don’t understand,” she said. “I think it’s important we have discussion about this language.”

That request fell on deaf ears as Titus and fellow Republicans Jim Wheeler, John Ellison and Ira Hansen moved the bill in its amended form to the floor.

“This is just an impression I have that the sheriff is the highest law enforcement in a county,” said Titus. “My concern is BLM encroachment on that authority.”

As to how the new language would work and whether it meets Constitutional muster, she said, “I apologize to everyone on this committee; we do not have those answers.”

She said she intended to pass the bill to the floor and let members of the panel get their questions answered later in good part because the bill is facing a Friday deadline for committee passage or it dies.

Assemblyman Ellison, R-Elko, said there have been instances in his county “where federal authorities have overstepped their boundaries.”

“The sheriff is the one that has ruling authority to give them guys the extra authority to come in,’ he said.

Carlton said she just doesn’t think the approach Titus took to push the bill through was appropriate, because there was no debate or explanation how the new language would work and since the amendment puts the bill under a different section of Nevada statutes than the original.

AB408 goes to the floor of the Assembly.


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