Big Day at the Capitol next Monday
By Sen Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls
Monday February 16 is an especially important day for the public to come be heard at our State Capitol in Helena. If you can make it, I hope you will join me for these important events:
CSKT COMPACT: At 8am the CSKT Water Compact (SB262) will come before Senate Judiciary committee. Proponents say this years”tweaked version of the proposed Compact is better than the one narrowly defeated in the legislature in 2013, but I do not see enough improvements in this Compact to be comfortable in supporting it. The hearing is open to the public and opportunity for public comment will be provided.
PUBLIC LANDS: Also on Monday, from 11am to 1pm there will be a Public Land rally on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the Capitol rotunda. Proponents and opponents of transferring federal land to state control are urging sportsmen and other Montanans to participate in the rally to keep public lands public.
Opponents of state control assert that Montana would foolishly sell the public lands to the highest bidder. To ensure this can’t happen I have introduced SB 215, a bill that will prohibit the State of Montana from selling any public lands that may be transferred from the federal government to the state of Montana in the future. I have also introduced SB 274 to prohibit the federal government from selling the public lands they currently control in Montana.
*There is no question most everyone agrees public lands should remain public. But evidence shows there is a significant opportunity to improve access, health, productivity and revenues if the state takes over responsibility. *To examine this issue more thoroughly I am working on a bill to establish a Transfer of Public Lands (TPL) Task Force to study the feasibility of state assumption of management responsibilities for public land administered by the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. The study will not include Wilderness areas, National
Parks, Wildlife Refuges, Military properties or Indian lands as these lands are not under consideration for transfer.
To ensure objectivity, the TPL Task Force will be comprised of an equal number of democrat and republican legislators. The State Forester and Trust Lands Administrator will serve on the Task Force as ex-officio members
representing the executive branch. Federal agency liaisons will be welcome to participate as well.
The task force must operate on the presumption that selling the public lands is not an option and will be asked to focus on the economic feasibility of TPL including funding sources for land management activities and wild land firefighting, along with projected high and low costs and revenues, cost efficiencies that could be implemented under state control, and safeguards that can be put in place to protect public ownership, access, use, valid existing rights, and land-based livelihoods in both the short and long terms. The task force will also examine potential options for small incremental transfers of land over time including pilot projects, priority areas, entities best suited for management functions, and how revenues should be distributed if revenues exceed operating costs.
A few other bills I have in the works relative to public lands include:
*LC 2316 – A bill for an act requiring the attorney general to pursue reimbursement of money owed to Montana’s school fund pursuant to the enabling act. *Our statehood enabling act requires the federal government to pay Montana 5% of proceeds from all public lands sold by the federal government in Montana after we became a state. Since Montanas statehood in 1889, the federal government has sold tens of thousands of acres of national forest lands in Montana but has not paid the state our 5% share. Recovery of these funds will boost funding for public schools.
LC 2159 A resolution calling upon congress, all other elected and appointed public servants, and the citizens of Montana to exert all efforts within their powers to immediately effect improved management of federally controlled public lands, fully fund federal payment in lieu of taxes (PILT) at actual taxable land value, and keep public lands in public ownership whether they remain under federal control or are transferred to the state in the future. Improved management emphasized in the resolution includes better public access, environmental health, economic productivity, public involvement, wildfire fuel reduction, compliance with law, and cost efficiency. Such improvements along with full payment of PILT will greatly help Montanas struggling rural communities.
Theres a lot more going on, and a lot of other issues I am working on, but not enough room to report it all here. Please check my almost daily posts at www.jenniferfielder.us or find me on facebook. Gotta run!
Senator Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls