DENVER – A Colorado Senate committee on Tuesday advanced a measure that would clarify state jurisdiction over federal lands.
Senate Bill 39 passed the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee by a Republican party-line vote of 3-2. If the bill passes the full Senate, it faces an uphill climb in the Democratic-controlled House.
The measure would allow Colorado to exercise authority along with the federal government over federal public lands.
A vote on the measure was delayed last week after opponents of the bill pointed out that the vast majority of public lands in Colorado are held in what is known as a “proprietorial interest only,” meaning the state already has authority.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, successfully pushed an amendment on Tuesday to address the concerns. He added language to the bill that explains proprietorial interest jurisdiction levels.
“What is not clear, and has not been clear in the past, is how that should be applied,” Lambert said.
But many outdoors enthusiasts and conservationists passionately oppose the bill, worried that it is a shot across the bow. They fear a mismanagement of lands by the state that could result in closures.
Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, pointed to a movement known as the new “Sagebrush Rebellion,” a resurgence of the effort in the 1970s and ’80s to force the federal government to hand Western lands over to the states. He also pointed out that the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council wrote a position paper with similar language to that of SB 39.
“This seems to be part of a movement in the West to assert legal jurisdiction or even seize title of lands,” Jones said. “I don’t think Coloradans get that. I think they love their public lands, they love to recreate and that’s part of our identity in Colorado.”
But Lambert said he ran the bill in an effort to give local jurisdictions a seat at the table when it comes to criminal investigations and fighting wildfires on federal lands. He said the federal government blocks local intervention, which wastes time during precious moments.
“There have been a lot of conversations about transfer of federal lands; this isn’t that,” Lambert said. “This is only about who has the authority for jurisdictional type of issues.”