Parks bills roundup
A dozen bills filed in the Texas Legislature would work to protect and expand state parks and invest in conservation
In a sign of growing and bi-partisan support for expanding state and local parks, preserving natural areas and protecting wildlife habitat and waterways, twelve different bills have been filed in the Texas Legislature by both Republicans and Democrats to boost funding for parks and natural areas. Here’s what they do.
House Bill, aka HB, 1 (Bonnen) and Senate Bill, aka SB, 1 (Huffman)
These are the bills to fund all of state government for the next biennium (2024-2025). Both bills include $27 million for state park land acquisition. This is up from just $7 million appropriated for that in 2021 (which might have been the first time the Legislature ever appropriated funding for park land acquisition, although they had issued bonds for that purpose before). There’s also $46 million for local parks grants and $2 million for the Farm and Ranch Lands Conservation Program. Environment Texas has been advocating that $1 billion of the $33 billion budget surplus be added to the budget for state park land acquisition.
HB 500 (Bonnen) and SB 30 (Huffman)
These are known as the budget supplemental bills, adding funding for new expenses that have come up in the current (2022-2023) biennium. Both bills include $100 million for land acquisition. Much of this funding might be used to allow the state to buy the land on which Fairfield Lake State Park sits. This can only happen if the developer currently with the contract agrees to negotiate – which the state might force if HB 2332 (Orr) or SB 1656 (Schwertner), authorizing TPWD to use eminent domain to acquire the land, become law.
SB 1648 (Parker) and HB 3801 (King)
These bills would establish a “centennial parks conservation fund” to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to acquire land for state parks, develop and maintain parks, provide grants cities for local parks, and to “support department land, soil, and water conservation efforts.” Funding would depend on appropriations from lawmakers. These bills amend legislation and a constitutional amendment from 1967 which authorized TPWD to issue bonds for park land acquisition (money which fueled a boom period in acquiring parkland, including Big Bend Ranch State Park). As a result, as written, these bills would only take effect if bills (SJR 74 and HJR 154), also authorizing a new amendment to the Texas constitution, are approved by the Legislature and on the ballot by Texas voters.
This bill establishes a Texas Land and Water Conservation Fund. At least 65 percent of the funding would go for conservation projects like establishing a conservation easement on private lands, while no more than 25 percent could go to habitat restoration projects and no more than 25 percent for state, local, and non-profit run parks open to the public. Rep. Holland wrote about the bill in the Dallas Morning News. This bill also depends on simultaneous approval of a constitutional amendment (HJR 138)
This bill also creates a Land and Water Conservation Fund, but gives 80% of the funds for parks and 20% for natural resource conservation projects, including conservation easements and habitat restoration. Funding would depend on appropriations from lawmakers.
This bill would move $1 billion from the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (aka the “Rainy Day Fund”) and place it in a new state park lands acquisition trust fund “for the purpose of acquiring real property within the state of Texas for the purpose of expanding or creating publicly accessible state parks.”
It’s unclear which of these bills will ultimately become law (aside from the budget of course) or how much money parks and conservation will get, but as I told Texas Monthly, “the stars are aligning for Texas to make a big investment.”
Executive Director, Environment Texas
As the executive director of Environment Texas, Luke is a leading voice in the state for clean air, clean water, clean energy and open space. Luke has led successful campaigns to win permanent protection for the Christmas Mountains of Big Bend; to compel Exxon, Shell and Chevron Phillips to cut air pollution at three Texas refineries and chemical plants; and to boost funding for water conservation, renewable energy and state parks. The San Antonio Current has called Luke "long one of the most energetic and dedicated defenders of environmental issues in the state." He has been named one of the "Top Lobbyists for Causes" by Capitol Inside, received the President's Award from the Texas Recreation and Parks Society for his work to protect Texas parks, and was chosen for the inaugural class of "Next Generation Fellows" by the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at UT Austin. Luke, his wife, son and daughters are working to visit every state park in Texas.