Michigan United Conservation Clubs was disappointed to see political wrangling undo months of solid, productive work on an issue of great importance to many Michigan residents: Public land policy.
Senate Bill 248, known as the Land Cap Bill, narrowly passed out of the Michigan House of Representatives (58-52) on Wednesday and is now headed to the Governor’s desk.
MUCC feels strongly that unless Gov. Snyder is prepared to ensure critical measures of the bill are followed through with, the bill’s path should end at his desk with a veto.
When first introduced, SB 248 attempted to tackle a very real issue — lack of a public land management strategy — with a simple arbitrary cap that, in reality, would have done nothing more than prevented the state of Michigan from acquiring any new public lands and quite possibly would have forced the sale of public lands.
MUCC and other groups stepped in and voiced great concerns over the initial package, resulting in a number of amendments that made the bill much more palatable. One of the most important changes to the original bill was the addition of language that would require the needed purchase and disposal strategy. Once this strategy was created, the cap would have been removed and the strategy implemented.
Unfortunately, last-minute amendments were inserted that would mandate that the cap remain in place for Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula unless the legislature passes an entirely new bill to approve the statewide public land acquisition and disposition strategy. Without legislative approval, the land strategy would not be put into place either. The cap will automatically lift from the southern part of the state whether approval takes place or not.
“Requiring legislative approval of the plan leaves Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula at a disadvantage from the rest of the state.,” said Erin McDonough, Executive Director of MUCC. “Getting a bill introduced and passed is seldom easy. Yet without the full legislative process working through this issue all over again, we won’t have a plan and because of that, only the southern part of the state will be free from the arbitrary cap. The legislature should be part of helping craft the plan with the DNR and stakeholders. If the plan is not up to par, the legislature always has the ability to amend state law that it does not feel is satisfactory, and the Governor’s office can always ask the department for further review .”
While the Land Cap Bill has been touted as being desired by citizens of the Northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula, the votes do not show that widespread support. Legislators representing 55 percent of the northern Lower Peninsula landmass and 55 percent of the region’s population voted against the bill.
“We’ve heard repeatedly that this bill represents the will of the people,” said McDonough. “Nothing we have seen or heard supports that. The votes do not show that. The polls we’ve ran on our websites do not show that. The comments and feedback we’ve heard from members do not support that. Michigan’s citizens value public land. They want a plan that carefully considers which lands should be bought or sold. But they do not want an arbitrary cap placed on public land ownership and they certainly do not want to see months of effort and energy to create a sensible, effective bill tossed aside.”
MUCC will be reaching out to Gov. Snyder’s office, asking the administration to either assure Michigan’s residents that the management plan will be completed and the threat of a permanent cap be lifted or the bill be vetoed.
Logo courtesy of Michigan United Conservation Clubs