BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A legislative committee on Wednesday sent a proposal to the full House to create a panel on federal lands issues.
The Council on Federal Lands would be comprised of four members each from the Senate and House.
Republican Rep. Judy Boyle said it would work with federal agencies on issues involving taxation and land use.
About 62 percent, or 51,000 square miles, of Idaho is managed by the federal government. The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service approve grazing permits, logging contracts and mining operations.
"The Legislature really has not been able to delve into what goes on on those lands that well," Boyle said. "This council would be able to meet year-round when we're out of session and really delve into these federal issues."
A number of lawmakers questioned the estimated cost to taxpayers of $10,000 to $15,000 annually since the council will be authorized to hire attorneys. Some noted that a previous group cost about $120,000, including some $90,000 in attorney fees.
Boyle said the new committee would likely use the same attorney the previous committee used at a rate of $420 an hour in 2014. She said attorneys in the Idaho attorney general's office are busy with other tasks and don't have the expertise in federal lands policy.
Boyle said the new council is not another version of the previous committee that looked at transferring federal land to the state.
"We are to help people who are having difficulty dealing with the federal government and understanding the issues," she said. She said the committee could help the livestock industry in dealing with grazing problems on federal public land.
"Ranchers are very tough people, but they're also intimidated by people who hold their livelihood at the tip of their pen," Boyle said.
Another lawmaker questioned the committee's directive to look at such things as taxation, natural resources and economic development. Some noted the state already has agencies covering those issues.
"This is not about state agencies," Boyle said. "This is about dealing with the federal agencies."
Another lawmaker questioned whether the council could compel the federal government to do what the council wanted.
"Because this will be a committee dedicated to just the federal issues, we will have a lot more persuasive powers, I think," Boyle said. "We can't compel anything. We can't tell the federal government they have to do anything. But we can work with them and persuade them."
Representatives of the Idaho Association of Counties, Idaho Cattle Association and the Idaho Farm Bureau spoke in support of creating the council.
"It's hard for our members to have a voice in what happens on that land," said DeLon Lee of the Idaho Farm Bureau. "And with many of our members interacting with the federal government on a daily basis, we hear a lot of frustrations and complaints with their voices not being heard."