AG's Office: Dabakis' Public Lands Bill Has It All Wrong

Feb 6, 2015

On Thursday we brought you the story of Jim Dabakis’ public lands bill SB 105. The bill aims to set a deadline for Utah’s public lands debate. If passed, it would require the Attorney General’s Office to file a lawsuit for the federal lands it claims rightfully belong to Utah by June of 2016. Dabakis’ goal: have the Supreme Court end the debate over the lands once and for all.

Assistant Attorney General Tony Rampton said Dabakis has it all wrong.

The Attorney General's Office sees both legal and logistical problems with SB 105.
Credit publiclands.utah.gov

“It’s not nearly as simple as senator Dabakis thinks it is,” Rampton said.

He said despite what Dabakis says, the Attorney General’s Office knows the 30 million acres of lands under dispute belong to the federal government. That’s not the issue.

“The federal government clearly owns the public lands, the question is: did the federal government have an obligation under the state’s Enabling Act to dispose of public lands.”

He said beyond the ownership issue, another problem with the bill is its legality. Rampton said having the Utah Legislature direct his office to file a suit is a violation of the separation of powers.

Dabakis’ hope for the bill is that it could speed up what he called a drawn out and expensive legal process. Rampton, however, doesn’t think litigation is the only way to solve the question of ownership. Because of that, he said the Attorney General’s Office can’t give a clear end date like SB 105 can.

“I think the state is proceeding prudently, it’s proceeding thoughtfully one step at a time,” Rampton said. “It’s going to take a long time to get this thing resolved, it’s not something that can be done overnight.”

Rampton said he doesn’t know if the bill will pass, but if it does, he thinks it will be deemed unconstitutional.