(Sean Whaley/NPRI) – A state lawmaker testified today that the federal government’s unfunded mandates on issues such as clean air, clean water and flood zones are imposing costs on Nevada taxpayers without authority or justification.
Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Gardnerville, spoke in support of Senate Joint Resolution 6 before the Senate Government Affairs Committee.
“Nevada can no longer afford the federal mandates that are coming down, the unfunded federal mandates,” he said. “The national programs that are forced upon our state’s taxpayers that we have to bear, we just can’t afford.”
The resolution, if approved, would be sent to Nevada’s Congressional delegation, and to the rest of Congress, asking that the federal government respect the right of the state to deal with those issues not under national control as explained in the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Settelmeyer cited a decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to identify 2,500 acres of land in Douglas County as a flood zone even though there was no historical evidence to support the decision. As a result, Douglas County must now purchase costly flood insurance on the land it owns, he said.
Another example was a federal decision to reduce the level of naturally-occurring arsenic in water supplies requiring treatment from 100 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion with no scientific data to back up the change, Settelmeyer said. The result has been the requirement for costly water treatment projects throughout northern Nevada to deal with a new unfunded mandate, he said.
Settelmeyer said Congress needs to be reminded that states have the right to govern themselves on a wide variety of issues. A similar resolution SJR1, was approved by the Nevada Legislature in 1995 with the unanimous support of both Republicans and Democrats.
The federal government’s powers are limited, while those belonging to the states are, “numerous and indefinite,” he said. “Yet that is not what we’ve seen occur over a period of time from the federal government.”
John Wagner of Carson City, a member of the Independent American Party, cited the federal Real ID Act imposing requirements on the states regarding the issuing of driver’s licenses as a reason to support the resolution. The act requires the licenses to contain a microchip that can track people wherever they go, he said.
The act is a mandate that exceeds federal authority, Wagner said.
“But I just don’t like the idea of the federal government mandating to the states: ‘you must do this,’ ” he said. “We’re supposed to be sovereign states according to the 10th Amendment.”
Asked for a comment on the status of Real ID, Tom Jacobs, spokesman for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, said a microchip was never part of the law. Jacobs said Nevada stopped issuing Real ID compliant driver’s licenses in April 2010 after emergency regulations expired. The Legislature chose not to address the issue and, without regulations, the department wasn’t authorized to issue the card, he said.
Tom Cornell, representing the Nevada Libertarian Party, said his concern with inappropriate federal intrusion into state issues is with funded, not unfunded, mandates.
The Department of Homeland Security, for example, has billions of dollars in funding it can use as incentives to obtain compliance from state and county governments with its laws and regulations, he said.
Elko County Commissioner Demar Dahl said the biggest economic development challenge facing the rural Nevada county over the next 20 years is keeping the federal government out of the way. The county is currently in a battle with the U.S. Forest Service over a plan to close hundreds of miles of forest roads, he said. Dahl spoke as an individual, not as a representative of the commission.
Elko County became a battleground with the federal government in the 1990s over the rebuilding of a road washed out in a flood. The U.S. Forest Service opposed reconstruction. The dispute brought national media attention to the remote area of Jarbidge Canyon in northeast Nevada.
The federal government’s control of most of Nevada’s land has led to a number of disputes between residents and various federal agencies over the years, including the “Sagebrush Rebellion” originally a fight over the designation of wilderness areas in Nevada and other western states.
About 87 percent of Nevada is controlled by federal agencies, according to the Nevada Legislative Guide.
A number of other speakers, including Doug Busselman, executive vice president of the Nevada Farm Bureau, also supported the resolution.
But Sen. Mike Schneider, D-Las Vegas, a member of the committee, said federal government initiatives over the past many decades, such as the creation of the interstate highway system, have been a boon to Nevada and the nation.
Nevada currently needs new transmission lines built which cannot be done without the support of the federal government, he said. The new bridge across the Colorado River would not have been accomplished without federal government support, Schneider said.
Nevadans with their strong libertarian streak sometimes get caught up with the idea of keeping the federal government out of the state’s business, but, “I think the federal government maybe needs to do more than they even do today,” he said.
The federal government’s involvement in state activities should not be unbridled, however, Schneider said.
The committee did not take immediate action on the resolution.