DENVER (Apr. 24, 2015) – The Colorado Senate approved a bill Tuesday that reasserts some state power over as much as 97 percent of land held by the federal government in the state.
Senate Bill 39 (SB39) was introduced in January by Sen. Kent Lambert (R-Colorado Springs) and was passed on April 21. SB39 would give “concurrent legislative jurisdiction” to Colorado lands held by the feds in ‘proprietorial interest only.’ An estimated 97 percent of the land held by the feds in the state of Colorado, according to the bill, falls under this classification and would be impacted by the legislation.
The bill reads, in part:
In accordance with legal principles of federal law that are long understood, the state of Colorado possesses, on its own behalf and on behalf of its political subdivisions, the jurisdictional right to respond to and to take action on BLM lands or USFS lands for which the federal government claims only a proprietorial interest when conditions on such lands adversely affect, or pose a clear and imminent danger to, life and the public health and safety of the residents of the state.
“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,” Sen. Lambert said in a Durango Herald report about the bill.
SB39 cites the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution as apart of the justification behind the bill. It reads, in part:
The Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution explicitly states that “[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” Among these powers the Tenth Amendment confers upon each state is the police power, or the right of a state, subject to due process and other limitations, to establish and enforce laws protecting the public’s health, safety, and general welfare.
In addition to strengthening state sovereignty, the legislation would give state officials the ability to respond more rapidly to natural disasters such as wildfires as well. SB39 reads, in part:
The ability of Colorado counties and the state to respond to wildfires that start on land managed by the United States government, and specifically by the USFS and the BLM, has been restricted by the federal government, resulting in clear and imminent dangers to the life, health, and safety of residents of the state, both within federal lands and on land within the territorial boundaries of counties and municipalities that border federal land…
The jurisdictional right of the state of Colorado and its political subdivisions to mitigate potential risks to life and to the public health or safety should not be fettered by an intrusive and uncooperative federal bureaucracy.
“We should have these discussions in a deliberate fashion before emergencies start,” Sen. Lambert said in a Coloradoan report. “All you have to do is go back and look at … some of the most damaging fires and loss of property in Colorado history to know that we’re not there yet.”
Now that it has passed through the state Senate successfully, SB39 will be heard in the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee. It must pass through that committee assignment successfully before a full vote can be taken in the state House.
It is worth noting that the federal government is given discretion to own land by the Constitution in three distinct forms: territories, enclaves and other property. Territories referred to land that was owned by the federal government but had not been formally made into states. Enclaves referred to land within a state that was owned by the federal government for essential purposes such as ‘Forts, Magazines, Arsenals, dock-Yards.’ Other property refers to land holdings for enumerated purposes, and gives the federal government limited discretion to possess land.
However, the Constitution does not authorize permanent land-grabs by the federal government. It authorizes Congress to make “all needful Rules and Regulations” pertaining to land. ‘Needful’ was a word carefully chosen to indicate that the regulatory power only expanded to powers specifically enumerated in the Constitution. The feds were expected to sell off non-essential land and distribute the subsequent monies in ways that benefited the public good such as paying off the debt or tax cuts.
The current regime of federal land management is blatantly unconstitutional and SB39 is a small, but important, step towards the Founders’ vision.
If you live in Colorado, call your state representative and politely urge them to co-sponsor and support SB39. You can find their contact information HERE.
All Other States, visit the American Lands Council for more specific steps you can take to fight federal land grabs in your state. In the mean time, contact your state legislators and politely urge them to introduce similar legislation to SB39. You can find their contact information HERE.