A legislative committee studying the transfer of public lands from federal to state ownership is hiring its own lawyer.
The panel wants a taxpayer-funded legal counsel to work on this issue, Kimberlee Kruesi of the Associated Press reported over the weekend. The arrangement with Boise attorney William Myers — at a cost of $41,762 so far, according to Kruesi — illustrates a rift between legislative leaders and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden on the public lands issue.
Wasden has maintained that the state has a flimsy legal argument for demanding a federal lands transfer — and would likely have to press on in court with little or no help from its Western neighbors. Wasden argued this point during the May GOP primary, and won convincingly over conservative challenger Chris Troupis, a supporter of the transfer.
“We’ve hired legal counsel from outside of state government primarily because we didn’t feel as the Legislature that we were getting the help that we needed from the attorney general’s office, once they determined the legal prospects of the case against the federal government on this didn’t have much merit,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told Kruesi.
Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, told Kruesi that the move was made without the legislative committee’s knowledge.
The 10-member legislative “interim committee” has been studying the lands transfer issue since last summer, and will make its recommendations to the 2015 Legislature. Supporters say the move would create a boon for K-12 and other state lands endowment beneficiaries. Skeptics say the state would be saddled with the exorbitant cost of managing lands and fighting wildfires.
The 2013 Legislature already went on record demanding a transfer — before the committee could even begin its work.