DENVER – A measure aimed at creating a Public Lands Day in Colorado quickly turned into a conversation over how well the federal government manages those spaces.
The Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee unanimously passed the bill on Monday, but only after Republicans offered an amendment asserting failures in how federal officials have managed and regulated lands across the state.
A recent standoff in Oregon served as a backdrop to the bill, where a group occupied a federal wildlife refuge headquarters, protesting federal lands policies.
“Coloradans would be well-served by a reform and greater legislative oversight of the current federal regulatory process, wherein the diverse vital interests of Coloradans are too often not adequately represented in the adjudication and settlement of federal regulatory issues, resulting too often in ‘sweetheart’ consent decrees between plaintiffs and federal agencies,” the Republican-backed amendment states.
“What we have seen is access being removed on federal lands over the past 10, 15, 20 years,” Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, said in supporting the amendment.
Without the compromise, Republicans were unlikely to support the bill.
The overall intent of the legislation is to designate the third Saturday in May each year for Coloradans to show their appreciation for the state’s vast swaths of state and federal public lands.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail, had intended for the day to be celebrated on the fourth Monday of March. But lawmakers changed that to the third Saturday in May, specifically choosing Saturday so that it would not impact Mother’s Day.
To a certain extent, Donovan agreed with Republicans, stating: “Certainly, in my district, I have seen and heard from constituents that have seen historic uses change and roads that they used to be very passionate about being closed down.”
But she added of the language in her draft bill: “These statements were all meaning to suggest possible ways for it, not to affirm a current condition.”
Sen. Matt Jones, a Louisville Democrat, added of the Republican amendment: “It seems to not be a declarative statement of what’s going on; it’s an accusation.”