Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Changing Political Landscape for Parks and Recreation: The 112th Congress Offers Both Legislative Challenges and Opportunities

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

The Changing Political Landscape for Parks and Recreation: The 112th Congress Offers Both Legislative Challenges and Opportunities

Article excerpt

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THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE IN WASHINGTON will be much different for the 112th Congress, and with both parties encouraging spending reductions, park and recreation advocates will likely be required to take on dual roles of playing offense (working to advance new legislation) and defense (advocating to save funding for programs already authorized to receive federal funding) relative to this year's legislative agenda of:

* Enactment of legislation that would fund capital park and recreation projects and at-risk youth programs in urban areas;

* Enactment of legislation to engage children in nature;

* Allocation of 40 percent of all LWCF funding to the State Assistance Program; and

* Continued funding for recreational trails within the transportation reauthorization.

Urban Parks and Recreation

In the 111th Congress, efforts by NRPA and the Urban Parks Coalition led to the introduction of the Urban Revitalization and Livable Communities (URLC) bill in the House of Representatives. The bill authorized $445 million annually to fund urban capital park and recreation projects and at-risk youth programs. Unfortunately, the URLC was not taken up by the House of Representatives and must be reintroduced in the 112th Congress. Representative Sires (D-NJ) and Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) have indicated a willingness to be the lead sponsors for the introduction of the bill in the 112th.

Currently, urban park and recreation agencies can apply for funding from programs such as the Community Development and Block Grant (CDBG) program, but must compete with other departments within cities to receive such funding. The URLC would authorize the creation of a program to fund only urban park and recreation projects and programs. Advancing the URLC will require a groundswell of support in Congress, making advocacy efforts to secure co-sponsors key to having this bill signed into law.

Children in Nature

For several years NRPA has been advocating for the passage of the No Child Left Inside Act (NCLI), which would expand environmental education in schools, provide hands-on field experience for students and teachers, and allow park and recreation agencies to partner with local education agencies to apply for programmatic grants to enhance environmental education at the local level. This bill is likely to be reintroduced in the 112th Congress.

Another opportunity in this area is the Moving Outdoors in Nature Act, which was introduced in the 111th Congress and is anticipated also to be introduced in the 112th, The legislation would reconnect children, youth, and families with the natural world by providing grants to state and local entities, such as park and recreation agencies and special park districts, for natural play areas, outdoor recreation programs, public health efforts, outdoor learning environments, service learning, and other initiatives.

In advocating for these bills in the environment of the 112th, it is important to note that both bills would give Congress only the permission necessary to fund the programs on an annual basis, and the actual allocation of funds would come at a later point through the appropriations process. In other words, simply passing these bills does not require Congress to fund the programs, and there is no cost to the government until funds are appropriated.

Land and Water Conservation Fund

In the 111th Congress there was an effort to obtain full and dedicated funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually using a comprehensive energy package as the legislative vehicle. The 112th Congress will take a different approach, focusing on energy and environmental oversight which would limit the regulatory authority of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior. With Congress looking to limit rather than expand government power, a comprehensive energy bill containing full and dedicated funding for LWCF is unlikely. …

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