As we hurdle towards crossover day in just two short weeks here in Richmond, I’d like to bring you along on the journey of one of my bills this session.
As I have mentioned in previous columns, one bill I introduced this session is the Virginia’s Great Outdoors Act, HB 1297. This bill began its life as a good idea back in the fall. I worked diligently over several months with our stakeholders to craft language that would accomplish the legislative intent of that good idea and then awaited a draft from our Division of Legislative Services to introduce by the first day of session on Jan. 10. The bill had its first hearing in the Natural Resources subcommittee (on which I now sit) at 7:30 a.m. on Jan. 24 and reported bipartisanly (and unanimously) 10-0. Just this morning, this bill passed unanimously out of the full Agriculture committee by a vote of 22-0 and will now head on its way to be considered in Appropriations. HB 1297 still has a long way ahead of it to the House Floor and then to the Senate for consideration, before hopefully arriving at the Governor’s desk for his signature.
HB 1297 seeks to provide $200 million in dedicated funding from recordation tax revenue to invest in trails, state parks and other public lands, and support grant programs that help interested landowners protect their land, conserve natural resources, and increase access to the outdoors for all Virginians. This funding can help ensure current residents, future generations and visitors can count on enjoyment of the places that make Virginia special.
While Virginia's trails, state parks and other public lands are in high demand from Virginians and out-of-state visitors, they are currently underfunded and unable to provide the staff, programs, and infrastructure needed. In addition, historic sites like battlefields and those important to marginalized communities are unprotected from development. Farms and forest lands are also at risk of being converted to other uses and there aren’t sufficient funds to work with landowners who want to conserve their land.
Some of the many critical programs that will be funded through this legislation include the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, the Get Outdoors Fund, the Virginia BIPOC Historic Preservation Fund, the Virginia Battlefield Preservation Fund, and the Virginia Farmland Preservation Fund.
Please visit the Legislative Information System website as we continue through session to track HB 1297's progress.