New President, New Senate, New Outcome? Colorado Democrats Are Hopeful For Two Public Lands Bills

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Judy Fox-Perry’s ranch Aug. 14, 2019.

Legislatively speaking, we’ve been here before. 

A bill passes the House, with high hopes for the Senate. And then? Well, the last two times the Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy (CORE) Act and the Colorado Wilderness Act got to this point, the answer was nothing.

But backers believe this latest time will be different, for two reasons. 

Unlike the Trump administration, which put out a veto message the first time the CORE Act passed the House, the Biden administration said it “strongly supports” the Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act, the public lands package that includes both Colorado measures.

The bill “puts in place protections for some of our nation’s most iconic natural and cultural resources and safeguards recreational opportunities for the benefit of current and future generations, while creating jobs and investing in the recreation economy,” according to an Office of Management and Budget statement released last week.

The other change that improves the bill’s prospects of getting through Congress this session is a Senate controlled by Democrats, and a Colorado Senate delegation united in its support.

Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper have taken a first step in getting CORE through their chamber, by requesting a hearing on the measure they have both sponsored.

“It enjoys the full support of seven affected counties, many cities and towns, local leaders, and a wide range of interests — from mountain bikers to ranchers, and hikers to hunters,” they wrote to the chair and ranking member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee. “Coloradans are eager for the Senate to consider this bill.”

Hickenlooper’s predecessor, Cory Gardner, said he wouldn’t block the CORE Act, but he also didn’t push for its passage, something which might have carried weight with then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The CORE got a Senate committee hearing at the end of last session, as did some of the other measures in the House-passed public lands package. The Senate will likely hold hearings on them once again.

Just as CORE and the Colorado Wilderness Act made it through the House as part of a larger public lands package, the same could also happen in the Senate. This early in the session, it’s unclear if or how such a bill could come together in that chamber.

Whether or not that happens, there’s no assurance the bill will get taken up quickly by the chamber. It will join a growing to-do list for Democrats as they rush to implement a wide-ranging agenda after years out of power.

Currently topping that list is confirming the rest of President Joe Biden’s cabinet and passing a coronavirus relief package.

But Colorado’s Senators aren’t giving up hope.

“Senator Bennet has been focused on passing the CORE Act and he’ll look for every opportunity to make that happen,” a spokesperson for Bennet said.

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