More lame-duck mischief

By Henry Lamb

Shielded by the media spotlight focused on Homeland Security, the lame duck session of Congress has once again engaged in midnight madness. At 2:35 a.m. Friday morning, the House of Representatives passed 15 bills, all loaded with pork-barrel budgets to acquire more land for the government.

Among these bills is S 990, labeled “CARA-lite,” by the American Land Rights Association, which sees the bill as a scaled-down version of the Conservation and Reinvestment Act (also known as the Confiscation and Relocation Act), a bill that would pump billions of dollars into government land acquisition.

S 990 passed the Senate last year by unanimous consent, four days before Christmas, at 11:45 pm, with only three senators in the chamber. There was no debate, no recorded vote. The House version that passed Friday, is slightly different from the Senate version, so the Senate will have to approve it again before the bill can go to the president to be signed into law. Unless there is loud and determined objection, it is likely to be slipped through the Senate again.

According to Mike Hardiman, ALRA’s Washington representative, S 990 moved after lying dormant in the House of Representatives for 11 months, because two outgoing congressmen want to leave a legacy.

New Hampshire’s Republican Sen. Bob Smith, who was defeated in the primary elections by John Sununu, has included a $9 million grant to the Trust for Public Land, “to purchase New Hampshire land that will cost only $7 million,” Hardiman says. Retiring Utah Republican Representative, Jim Hansen, outgoing chair of the House Resources Committee, has included $2 million for the James V. Hansen Shoshone Trail, and $11 million for the Bear River Visitor Center to be named for – that’s right – James V. Hansen.

The bill creates, and adds a new classification called “species at risk” to the “endangered,” and “threatened” classifications that may be regulated under the Endangered Species Act. It also provides up to $150 million per year for grants to non-profit environmental organizations, with no prohibition against money going to radical animal-rights groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which admittedly supports the group that took responsibility for the $12 million torching of the Vail, Colo., ski lodge.

The bill provides another $50 million to states, which can be used for land acquisition, with no prohibition against the use of eminent domain against private property owners. Still another $50 million is made available for partnerships with environmental organizations to protect “shrubland and grassland.” Seven amendments were attached to S 990 at the last moment, each adding more pork for special-interest groups, and providing bragging rights for congressmen.

The 14 other bills included in this late-night, last-minute action, provide for Big Sur Wilderness (HR 4750); Caribbean Forest Wilderness (HR3955); Bainbridge Island Study (HR 3747); Old Spanish Trail (S 1946); and Haines, Ore., Land Exchange (S 1907).

The House adjourned on Friday, but the Senate will continue its mischief for several more days. Any senator can stop the passage of S 990, simply by placing a “hold” on the bill. This action would require that the bill be carried over to the next session of Congress.

In the last minute rush to complete business, and get out town, congressmen cut deals right-and-left, to get their pet projects passed. The “unanimous consent” procedure allows congressmen to pass legislation without having to record their vote, and if challenged by their constituents, they can claim that they were not aware that the bill was going to be on the consent calendar.

Property-rights advocates are not sitting idly by and wringing their hands. ALRA launched a massive e-mail and fax campaign Saturday night, urging their members to call their senators (800-648-3516) and ask them to place a “hold” on S 990.

“You must call and fax both your senators so their offices are deluged with messages beginning Monday morning. This is not a time you can depend on someone else. YOU must do it,” says the e-mail message sent to tens of thousands of property rights advocates across the country.

Chuck Cushman, ALRA’s executive director, says “We’re going to make sure that no senator can hide behind the ‘I didn’t know’ excuse, if this terrible bill is passed.”