H.R. 324 designated the Santa Cruz Valley region of southern Arizona as a national heritage area. National heritage areas are regions of historical and cultural significance that are given this particular designation to encourage their historic preservation and to promote their public appreciation. Some Republicans had expressed concern that the designation of national heritage areas could interfere with the rights of property owners in the designated regions. They had also expressed concern about the results of making this particular region, which was close to the U.S.-Mexican border, a national heritage area because of the potential negative effect on the efforts to prevent the importation of illegal drugs from Mexico.
In response to the concerns about the rights of property owners and the importation of illegal drugs, Rep. Bishop (R-UT) moved that the bill be recommitted (sent back) to committee. His motion mandated that the committee add language requiring that each property owner give consent before its property could be included in the new Santa Cruz Valley heritage area. The motion also mandated that language be added to the bill requiring that the Department of Homeland Security be consulted on land use plans related to the heritage area, and that none of those plans interfere with the operations of the department.
Rep. Bishop acknowledged that there is an argument that the requirement that all property owners agree to be included in the new heritage area, is “burdensome and difficult.” He then noted “when tax time comes, the government entities have an easy time finding all the property owners in an area. We could do the same thing, because the matter is not how efficient it is or how easy it is. The matter should be that private property rights are not a burden to government, and they should be respected in every way that is possible, especially in these areas where the National Park Service, who will be administering this, does not have a celebrated history of respecting private property rights and finding unique ways of having willing sellers.”
Regarding the need for the language relating to the Department of Homeland Security, Bishop claimed that, currently, “when a Border Patrol agent crosses into a national park, he has to get out of his car, park it and walk . . . the Border Patrol has to consult with the National Park Service before they can put up an antenna on that border.” He argued that the language he proposed be added to the bill would “for the first time, say . . . that Homeland Security must be consulted in coming up with the land use plans.” He argued that the change would make the department “an equal partner” in the planning and “(R)ight now they are not . . . When it comes to border security, this bill is a perfect effort for us to move forward . . . .”
Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ), who sponsored the legislation, opposed the motion. He first argued that “nowhere in this legislation is there an infringement, a taking of private property rights.” Grijalva then noted that forty-nine other national heritage areas had been created over the previous thirty years and, there had not been “one incident where a private property owner has been forced, coerced into being part of or permitting their private property to be used as a designation.” He also claimed that the bill already contained language requiring full protection of private property interests.
Grijalva further argued that the requirement would create a serious administrative burden, “since close to a quarter of a million property owners (would have to) be notified and asked to either be part of or not be part of this heritage area.” He also claimed the process “would create a swiss cheese designation for that (new heritage) area . . . .” Regarding the language Rep. Bishop proposed relating to the Department of Homeland Security, Grijalva argued that the bill already contained provisions ensuring the ability of the department “plus all other local enforcement--the sheriffs, local police, tribal police, et cetera . . . to carry out their mission and enforce the law . . . and that the heritage area in no way would impinge, infringe or restrict that ability.”
The motion passed by a vote of 259-167. All one hundred and seventy-four Republicans and eighty-five Democrats voted “aye”. One hundred and sixty-seven Democrats, including a majority of the most progressive Members, voted “nay”. As a result, language was added to the legislation establishing the Santa Cruz Valley national heritage area that required each property owner to give consent before his/her property could be included in the new area, and that required the Department of Homeland Security to be consulted in the planning process for the area.