DENVER – A Colorado Senate committee Tuesday backed a bill that aims to offer more of a voice to local jurisdictions when dealing with federal land issues.
House Bill 1225 – which already made its way through the House with overwhelming support – made it through the Senate Local Government Committee unanimously.
The legislation would require that the state assist local governments with coordinating with the federal government over land-use issues. Local governments would be able to apply for a grant through the Department of Local Affairs asking for technical assistance on such issues as drafting a memorandum of understanding.
“By driving it at the local government level, you have the communities who are impacted by the federal lands surrounding them, you have that flavor that local government brings to it,” said Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, a co-sponsor of the legislation.
The bill comes as sportsmen and conservationists are calling on the Legislature to reject efforts that would transfer federal lands over to the state’s authority. They believe HB 1225, by requiring federal land coordination, is a way to keep lands public.
Sportsmen and conservationists held a rally at the Capitol in February opposing Senate Bill 39, which would allow Colorado to have some legislative and taxing authority over federal public lands. The federal government currently holds exclusive authority over its public land. SB 39 would allow Colorado to exercise authority along with the federal government.
Opponents say Senate Bill 39 is a slippery slope towards transferring federal lands over to the state’s authority, which they fear would result in a mismanagement of the lands acquired by the state. That could cut into the economic benefits Colorado gains from hunting, fishing and other outdoor tourism activities, critics said.
SB 39 has been delayed, as its sponsor, Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, works on a few issues. He said the purpose is simply to establish clear jurisdictional authority.
Lambert said lines are blurry in several instances, making it unclear who has the authority, either the federal government, or local jurisdictions. That could impact even criminal investigations, he said.
“What is now part of the state may still be under federal jurisdiction,” he said. “So, if there’s a crime committed there, the state may not be able to prosecute the crime because it’s a federal jurisdiction.”
Another measure addressing federal lands, Senate Bill 232, was introduced Monday. The bill would create a commission to study transferring public lands from the federal government to the state.
Roberts said her bill, HB 1225, has more to do with how to best coordinate when it comes to such issues as forest management, water rights and energy and other issues.
“As we struggle with poor forest health, energy development, water issues – all of this is recognizing that it hasn’t been a level playing field,” Roberts said. “The local governments could use some technical assistance ... which is incredibly complex and often far removed.”