Federal lands committee racks up legal bills

The legal bills for Idaho’s Federal Lands Interim Committee just keep going up.

The committee has run up more than $61,000 in bills with a Boise law firm, the Spokane Spokesman-Review’s Betsy Russell reported Monday.

Boise National ForestThe 10 lawmakers are trying to decide whether the state should demand a transfer of federal lands — in an attempt to maximize endowment payments for K-12. Critics say the state has no legal footing to demand a transfer, and they say the costs of managing the lands would offset any revenues collected from logging or other uses.

The Boise law firm Holland and Hart has collected $61,375 for legal costs, with former Interior Department solicitor Bill Myers billing the state at $420 per hour, Russell reported.

The legislative committee could receive free legal advice from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who has questioned whether the state has legal grounds to demand a lands transfer. But the committee instead opted to hire outside counsel.

“Of course we have been criticized for not using the Attorney General, but I’m not sure the Attorney General has any attorneys on staff with the time or the expertise that Bill Myers has,” state Rep. Lawerence Denney told Russell. “So I think for us to get good sound legal advice, I think it’s a good idea for us to hire outside counsel.”

Denney is co-chairman of the interim committee, and the Republican nominee for secretary of state.

The 2013 Legislature created the interim committee, after passing a nonbonding resolution demanding a public lands transfer. The interim committee is scheduled to make its recommendations to the 2015 Legislature.

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