A Public Lands Day bill that’s been a political football this legislative session once again got booted back to the Colorado Senate on Friday after House Democrats successfully stripped out previous GOP amendments asserting greater state control over the one third of the state that’s owned and managed by the federal government.
Vail Democrat Kerry Donovan’s SB21 (pdf), which would establish a Public Lands Day to officially “celebrate all the ways that public lands contribute to Coloradans’ well-being,” passed on second reading (special order) with amendments in the House and now heads back to the Senate for concurrence.
Democrats on Friday accepted a couple of Republican amendments but then had to block an attempt by Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Durango, to reinsert controversial amendments added by Republicans when the Senate first approved the bill. Brown is embroiled in a contentious re-election campaign in his Southwest Colorado district.
“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 original Senate amendment read.
The Democratic majority on the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee stripped out the Senate amendments and substituted an endorsement of “cooperative and collaborative involvement of local governments in federal land management decision-making processes” – language taken from a previous bipartisan bill.
“Local governments routinely work in cooperation with the federal agencies,” said Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, the Steamboat Springs Democrat who sponsored the bill in the House and represents Eagle and Routt counties. “Let’s keep it that way and not get into a completely unnecessary and unwinnable argument over who’s in charge.”
Donovan is hopeful that with the more bipartisan language inserted by the Democrat-controlled House the bill will ultimately pass as amended when it heads back to the Republican-controlled Senate.
“It could get interesting [in the Senate] but there seems to be broad support for the establishment of the day,” Donovan said. “We’re just debating the language that describes the day. It’s an important discussion that happens because it does reveal different approaches to how the parties perceive public lands in some areas.
“But I’m still confident we’re going to get public lands day established, because that idea is something that everyone can stand behind and we’re just really debating the big language that surrounds the concept, so that shouldn’t kill the bill because it’s not the substance of the bill.”