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By Liz Ruskin, Alaska Public Media
January 2, 2019
One of Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s first priorities in the Congress that begins Thursday is to pass a 680-page public lands bill. It’s a compendium of wants and needs from Republicans and Democrats. Murkowski came within a hair’s breadth of passing it late last month, but she was thwarted by a single senator.
It’s a reminder of how hard it is to get a bill through the U.S. Senate, and how hard it can be to make adjustments to public lands, even if 99 senators are willing to see it pass.
“Mr. President, I would ask unanimous consent on behalf of Chairman (Orrin) Hatch that the Senate proceed to the immediate consideration of the lands package bill,” Murkowski said, pushing her bill just before the Christmas break. “Unanimous consent” is how most bills get to the floor, but it has one drawback: the unanimous part.
The public lands bill has become a December tradition. The heart of it is always a collection of hyper-local issues. One section of it might expand the borders of a refuge to include a donated ranch. Or, Murkowski said, it may deed land to a school.
“It’s pretty parochial,” she said. “These don’t come to the floor for debate and passage … It might not be a perfect process, but we bundle them up at the end of the year.”
As chair of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Murkowski is largely responsible for compiling the bill and negotiating its passage. A major Alaska item in the latest version would have given Native veterans of the Vietnam War era another opportunity to select land for a personal allotment.
The bill also had several nationwide measures, including a really big one: It would make the Land and Water Conservation Fund permanent. The fund, which expired in October, allowed the federal government to preserve land and improve parks and recreation areas using revenue from offshore drilling. It also sent piles of money to the states. It’s been popular on the left and the right for decades. But not everyone likes it...
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