DENVER – The Colorado Senate on Monday gave preliminary approval to a measure that would clarify state jurisdiction over federal lands.
A final vote in the Senate could come as early as Tuesday before the bill heads to the Democrat-controlled House, where the measure would face a rocky road.
Senate Bill 39 would allow Colorado to exercise authority along with the federal government over federal public lands.
“This is about clarifying both the federal and the state law by putting in current definitions and codifying what is already practiced at the federal level but is often ignored,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs.
Lambert said he sponsored the bill in an effort to give local jurisdictions more of a voice when it comes to criminal investigations and fighting wildfires on federal lands.
A separate bill, Senate Bill 232, would implement a study group to examine allowing the state to take over management of federal lands. That bill is scheduled for a hearing by a Senate committee on Thursday.
Many Democrats, along with a coalition of outdoor enthusiasts and conservationists, oppose the bill, pointing out that the language of the measure is similar to a proposal pushed by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.
They worry that the bill is just a step in a conservative 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.
“This language looks really almost verbatim to an ALEC resolution that’s been run around the country as part of a national effort,” said Senate Minority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora. “It’s still philosophically in the same camp of doing things that weakens protection of public lands.”
Those opposed to Senate Bill 39 worry about the state taking on 23 million acres of federal land, suggesting that a mismanagement of the costly burden would lead to closing public space that is used for outdoor recreation.
More than 120 Colorado businesses joined an open letter on Monday opposing any effort that extends control of federal lands to the state. One of those businesses was Pine Needle Mountaineering in Durango.
“Our business is wholly dependent on access to our national public lands, like the San Juan Mountains, to support our livelihoods, customer base and to attract good employees,” said Miles Venzara, owner of Pine Needle Mountaineering. “Threats to our public lands are inherently threats to me and our local business community and deserve swift opposition in the statehouse.”