Many say Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could easily arrange for his home state to get back most of the 84 percent of Nevada territory owned and controlled by the federal government. So does the Democrat represent the interests of Nevada, or does he put the interests of the U.S. government and the Democratic Party over his own state’s needs?
Nevada would get what it deserves if Reid drafted a measure to treat Nevada the same way as other states. The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives would eagerly vote to treat Nevada like a grown-up. Instead, Reid runs the U.S. Senate with an iron fist, to the detriment of his own voters.
Renegade rancher Cliven Bundy raised a question during the hair-raising show-down between the Bureau of Land Management and the militia supporting the cattle rancher. Bundy says he was paying grazing fees to Clark County, but that the county stopped accepting his payments. Bundy insists that Nevada, not the U.S. government, owns the land where his cattle graze.
According to the ranchers’ argument, the federal government “owned” or controlled every territory before it became a state, but once statehood was reached, the land became the property of the new state.
So how is it that the U.S. government owns 84 percent of Nevada? It certainly looks like Nevada citizens are being treated unfairly. It is almost as if Washington, D.C., is treating Nevada like a child that can’t manage itself.
Many Western states were treated unequally when they joined the Union. Unlike Eastern states, Congress reserved vast amounts of federally-owned land in the “Enabling Acts” for statehood in the West. Article 4, Section 4 of the U.S. Constitution requires an act of Congress to create a state. Keeping the majority of land in federal control seems in conflict with the very concept of statehood. The second paragraph of Section 4 appears to authorize this bizarre practice. But on closer inspection, that is far from clear.
The Nevada Constitution includes an “Ordinance” section that adopts the requirements of the congressional Enabling Act. A second rewrite of the state constitution was approved by voters on Sept. 7, 1864. Nevada became the 36th state on Oct. 31, 1864. Nevada agreed to let the federal government own “unappropriated land” within the state, “unless otherwise provided by the Congress of the United States.”
Las Vegas Review Journal reported in December:
Some Nevadans, particularly from the rural areas of the state, have been pushing the idea of a state takeover of federal lands for years.
Supporters were successful in the 2013 session of the Nevada Legislature in getting a measure passed to allow for a study of the concept.
The group created by Assembly Bill 227, the Nevada Land Management Task Force, has been charged with evaluating whether the state should consider taking over control of some of the public lands now managed by federal agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, which controls 76 percent of the land in the state.
The task force will submit its findings to the Legislative Committee on Public Lands by Sept. 1.
All these years later, Congress could easily right this discriminatory wrong. As the leader of the U.S. Senate, Reid could propose a change reverting the property to Nevada’s control, and Republicans in the House would enthusiastically agree.
Nevada voters should tell the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House to end the discrimination against Nevada and release the “unappropriated territory” to the management and ownership of their own state government.
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