Legislative Column

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

As a member of the Missouri Legislature, I normally focus my attention on matters before our stateís General Assembly, but Iím also a citizen and try to stay informed about legislation being considered in Washington, D.C. Iím especially interested in measures that directly impact us here at home. Lately, Iíve been paying particular attention to U.S. Senate Bill S.3422, otherwise known as the Great American Outdoors Act.

This measure establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to support maintenance projects on public lands administered by the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies. With more than 1.5 million acres of the Mark Twain National Forest located in Missouri, our state has a strong interest in seeing this program enacted. A reliable funding source for parks and forests is especially welcome in my Senate district, where seven of the eight counties I represent claim at least a small portion of the national forest. In recent years, weíve seen some maintenance projects within the National Forest put on hold due to lack of funding. Itís my hope passage of this act would allow those projects to move forward.

The benefit does not end there. The Great American Outdoors Act also establishes permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Established in 1964, the LWCF helps local communities develop outdoor recreation resources and facilities. The impact this program has here at home cannot be overstated. In fact, many of the local parks and recreation facilities you enjoy received funding through the LWCF.

Money for the LWCF program comes from royalties and fees paid by off-shore oil and gas drillers so it has no direct impact on taxpayers. Federal law allows up to $900 million of this money to be distributed each year to pay for recreational facilities nationwide. That rarely happens, though, as Congress usually diverts the funds to other needs. In fact, the LWCF has reached its yearly cap only four times in the programís history. The Great American Outdoors Act, which awaits a final vote in Congress, would ensure that the money always goes where itís intended.

To understand the impact this legislation would have on our communities, you only need to look at how weíve benefited so far. A complete list of facilities that were paid for, at least in-part, through the LWCF could fill this entire report and would include dozens of municipal parks in towns throughout the 33rd Senatorial District, swimming pools in Marshfield and Thayer, a water park in Willow Springs, a tennis court in West Plains, a golf course in Mountain View, ballfields and sports complexes at area schools, new and improved river access ramps and a variety of projects at state parks and conservation areas. Itís safe to say that nearly every resident of south-central Missouri benefits from this federal program.

The prospects for passage of the Great American Outdoors Act appear good. There is wide bipartisan support, with 59 of 100 senators signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation. The Senate voted to end debate on the measure earlier in June and a final up-or-down vote is expected any day now. A corresponding piece of legislation is also advancing in the House of Representatives.

I would like to see the Great American Outdoors Act become law. Iíve shared my support with our U.S. senators and I would encourage you to do the same. From my perspective, this bill will guarantee that Americaís parks, forests and outdoor recreation areas always receive the funding they need so that we can enjoy these treasures for generations to come.

It is my great honor to represent the citizens of the 33rd Senatorial District. Although the Legislature has adjourned for 2020, I remain your senator throughout the year. If thereís anything that I can do to assist you, please feel free to contact my Capitol office at 573-751-1882.