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Arizona bill would make it easier to build private border wall

(Flickr Photo/U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

PHOENIX — The Arizona Legislature would let property owners along the U.S.-Mexico border build a wall without seeking a city or county construction permit under a measure that advanced Wednesday.

Republicans on the House Federal Relations Committee approved the measure in a 4-3 party-line vote, saying state and local officials shouldn’t be able to throw up barriers if they’re philosophically opposed to building a border wall, a signature promise of President Donald Trump.

“We all know President Trump can’t do everything on his own,” said Rep. Warren Petersen, a Gilbert Republican and the House majority leader who sponsored the legislation. “There’s private companies, private property owners who are willing to help build the wall on their property.”

Tom Tancredo, a former Colorado Republican congressman and high-profile anti-illegal immigration advocate, pointed to a nonprofit organization that encountered red tape from local officials when it built a border wall on private land near the New Mexico-Texas state line. Tancredo is an advisory board member for the group, We Build the Wall.

Art Del Cueto, vice president of the union representing Border Patrol agents, also urged lawmakers to advance the bill.

Most of Arizona’s borderlands are publicly owned and would not be subject to the streamlined permitting process. But Democrats questioned whether it was worth eliminating local control over construction projects to advance a barrier they say is ineffective at stopping drug traffickers.

“I don’t believe a border wall, no matter how tall you build it, is going to stop anything,” said Rep. Alma Hernandez, a Democrat from Tucson.

There’s no indication that state or local regulations have prevented Arizona landowners from building a wall on their own property, said Rep. Reginald Bolding, a Democrat from Laveen.

The same committee also voted to require approval of the governor and Legislature before land could be sold to the federal government.

Rep. Mark Finchem, an Oro Valley Republican who sponsored the bill, said it would prevent the erosion of the property tax base, which pays for a variety of state and local government services. The federal government does not pay taxes on property it owns, which represents about 40 percent of the land in Arizona, according to state data.

Critics, including environmental and sportsman groups, said public lands provide recreational opportunities enjoyed by many Arizona residents and visitors.

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