Legislature Advises State Agencies to Prioritize Lands for Sale

Legislature Advises State Agencies to Prioritize Lands for Sale
Legislature Advises State Agencies to Prioritize Lands for Sale

Sportsman Dissection of a Bad Bill

Mark this day in your calendar- February 9th, 2017.  This was the day the Idaho Legislature showed us their cards. Senate Bill 1065 was printed, ordering state agencies to sell land through an ambiguously titled bill.  The bill has yet to be introduced to the Senate Resources Committee, but IWF has been lobbying to make sure it wont get far.  We will be sure to notify you if the opportunity arises for public testimony.

In the meantime we want to illustrate how sportsmen need to look at bill language that may seem harmless upfront. Bill texts can be confusing, as most of them are.  So we will break S1065 down for you to show all the implications that can be tied to a single page-long bill.

(Line 22-23) “it is hereby declared the policy of the state of Idaho that there shall be no net loss of private property within the state”

Seems harmless, but it is certainly outside the parameters of Idaho’s constitution.  Idaho’s constitution does not give the legislature the authority to regulate land sales from private to public property.  If it is a willing seller, willing buyer deal, it is your right to sell your land to school districts, county, state, or federal agencies, irrigation districts, etc.

(Line 27-29) “State agencies shall make a good faith effort to sell an equal or greater amount of property into private ownership prior to acquiring any parcel that is necessary to their public purpose”

Respectively, land sales or exchanges by state agencies are sometimes appropriate and can benefit the agency and the public, especially sportsmen and women.  However, forcing any agency to immediately sell land in order to buy other land can be a bad financial move and bad for the public.  Example- If IDFG is considering creating a hunting WMA from a private land purchase, they would have to close access to another area previously open to hunting and/or fishing.  In fact, with the language, “sell an equal or greater amount of property into private ownership,” we would only lose accessible acreage over time.  WMAs also bring revenue to the state and local economies.

Discussed below, the bill also gives authority to county commissioners to approve purchases by any public entity (school district, IDL, IDFG, etc.).  The rub is this- a public entity will need to sell land “prior to acquiring” new land.  Once that property is sold the public entity then needs permission from the county commissioners to buy new land.  What happens if the commissioners just say no?  The agency lost its original land, and the public lost access without gaining new access.  Sportsmen need to oppose any bills that would inject more politics into land sales/acquisitions.

(Line 30-32) State agencies shall make a prioritized list of all parcels of property that they have acquired and shall sell into private ownership any parcels that are not necessary to their public purpose.”

This is the big one. There is no clear definition of the term “public purpose”.  It is not a legal term.  Since laws guide action, this ambiguous term could be interpreted far too liberally, resulting in actions with far reaching negative repercussions.  For example, if IDFG purchased riverfront property for permanent public fishing access, it could be decided by the legislature at a future date that the public purpose of that property would better be served as a riverfront apartment complex.  Do we allow the legislature to define the “public purpose” of land?  Should we allow the same people who want to sell state lands to decide what public purpose means?

Furthermore, we finally have it in writing that the intent to transfer public lands to the state isn’t about management, it’s about sale.  For years transfer advocates have said it’s about management and improved access.  Well, now we have a bill that states the opposite- prioritize state lands to be sold to private ownership.  If public lands were transferred to the state, how many acres would not fulfill “their public purpose” in the eyes of our legislators?

 (Line 33-38) “any new acquisition of land within any particular county, when added to the acreage already held by the state within that county, … the state agency proposing to acquire property shall be required to receive permission for such acquisition from the county commissioners”

County commissioners would now gain the power to stop land sales.  This is an infringement on basic private property rights.  “The intent of the bill,” as Rep. Judy Boyle said to a distrusting crowd during a Council town hall meeting February 18th, “is to keep private land in our counties.” Our own Brian Brooks responded with a valid question, “what right does a county commissioner have to stop the sale of anyone’s river-access property to the IDFG as an easement to allow for public fishing access?”  The question was met with political deflection, which was followed by laughter from the crowd.  “They don’t” would have been the logical answer.

So what is the takeaway?

If you value private landowners’ rights to sell land to a willing public agency for more sportsman access- this is a bad bill.  If you think IDFG should be able to purchase public hunting properties without selling others- this is a bad bill.  If you think county commissioners should never have a say in the sale of your property- this is a bad bill.

Most important:  If passed, this bill will mandate state agencies to sell lands.  If public lands get transferred to the state and S1065 passes, then the state would prioritize their new land parcels for sale.  If you value public lands staying in public hands- this is a bad bill.

We hope this shed some light on how small and ambiguous bills can have enormous and long-lasting implications.

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