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2005 Legislative Platform for Trails, Parks, and Recreation

The National Recreation and Park Association annually advances a national agenda for parks and recreation in America.

From the National Recreation and Park Association

"This year, critical national priorities for parks and recreation are at risk."

This year, critical national priorities for parks and recreation are at risk. Your informed advocacy on Capitol Hill is essential to inform legislators of the value and importance of parks and recreation in your community, your state, and the nation. Together, we can ensure that an appropriate level of federal funding for state and local park and recreation needs is preserved. Together, we can ensure that progressive national policies to promote health, recreation, and conservation are sustained. Together, we can encourage our representatives to enact legislation to ensure our legacy of public parks, open spaces, and recreation opportunities for all Americans.

On behalf of its membership and in keeping with its mission, NRPA actively promotes and supports national policies and legislation that:

  • Enhance opportunities for public recreation at the local, regional, state, and national level
  • Addresses the nation's need for capital investments in public lands and recreation resources
  • Contributes to individual and social development including a healthy, active populace
  • Improves the health and well-being of children, youth, and families
  • Ensures natural diversity and protection of our nation's natural resources

NRPA's top legislative priorities for 2005:

  • Full reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act
  • Sufficient reliable funding for land conservation and capital investments in public parks and recreation
  • Passage of a comprehensive health and anti-obesity bill as well as related health legislation that ensures eligibility of park and recreation agencies

1) The Importance of the Nation's Surface Transportation Program to Parks, Recreation, and Local Communities

NRPA Legislative Priority: Reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act in a six-year bill that continues all provisions of the Transportation Enhancements Program; secures funding for park, recreation, and community programs such as Safe Routes to School and the Recreational Trails Program; and maintains the protections of Section 4(f) for parks, wildlife, and waterfowl areas from damage or destruction.

Background

For the past 15 years, the nation's surface transportation program has been authorized by a succession of comprehensive multi-year bills. The most recent six-year authorization was called the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA21). TEA21 expired on September 30, 2004, but has been extended five times since that date. At the start of the 109th Congress, there is still no agreement on the reauthorization of the nation's surface transportation program. When the 108th Congress adjourned in December 2004, the House and the Senate were gridlocked with the administration and each other over an acceptable cost for the bill. The Senate bill would have authorized $311 billion to $318 billion. The House insisted on a $299 billion to $301 billion bill. White House officials, at least publicly, appeared unwilling to authorize more than $256 billion.

The dynamic has changed somewhat, and for the first time, the Administration has taken a position to support a six year bill with $284 billion in funding. However, there is still a substantial gap between the Administration's suggested funding level and the level that Congress will request. Therefore, unless the President agrees to an amount that looks more like the House and Senate numbers, it is unlikely that the difficult 'donor-donee' issue (states that pay more into the fund with gas taxes than they get back are donors) can be resolved. New congressional resolve may break the deadlock early in the 109th Congress, however.

The most recent extension of temporary reauthorization of transportation spending expires May 31, so if a bill is to become law before then, it will need to be on the floor by March or early April 0f 2005.

One significant issue that may affect park and recreation interests negatively is a potential rescission of unobligated prior year balances. Funds that have not yet been committed to projects may be recalled by the states to be used in other spending categories. Transportation Enhancements, Congestion and Mitigation Air Quality grants, and other non-highway projects may be disproportionately affected, and the long-term negative impacts could be severe.

Park and recreation advocates have much at stake in this legislation. The law sets-aside 10% of surface transportation funds for "transportation enhancements" that is, alternative transportation systems such as bike and pedestrian ways and recreation trails. Over one-half of the present allocation of $600 million for annual enhancement funds has been invested in bicycle and pedestrian projects and rail-trail conversions.

Some parts of the transportation act of importance to parks, recreation, and conservation have separate funding formulas or stand alone as separate bills that are eventually incorporated into an overall reauthorization bill. These include the Recreational Trails Program, funded by revenues from off-highway vehicle use and distributed proportionally to all the states, and the Sport Fishing and Recreational Boating Safety Act (formerly the Wallops/Breaux Act) which funds boating and fishing safety and education programs, often on public lands and waters. The proposed Safe Routes to School initiatives to improve streets, sidewalks, grade crossings, and other bike and pedestrian ways will likely also be incorporated into the larger reauthorization bill

A very important consideration in the reauthorization for parks and recreation is that the Senate's version of the reauthorization proposes to alter a critical piece of existing law, Section 4(f) of the 1966 transportation act, by exempting appropriate review of "minor" or de minimis transportation project impacts. Such a change would put public parks and recreation sites at risk of encroachment by federally-aided highway projects. Sec. 4(f) was tested and ratified by the U.S. Supreme Court in Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe in 1971, and has withstood efforts to weaken the provisions of the law since then. NRPA strongly opposes changing current the current law regarding protected resources identified in Section 4(f).

NRPA Objectives

To gain full six-year reauthorization of the Transportation Equity Act

To ensure that the Transportation Enhancements remain set aside as 10% of annual available funds.

To ensure funding for the Recreational Trails Program based on 50% of the off-highway vehicle fuel tax revenues

To gain full funding for the Sport Fishing Restoration and Boating Safety Fund (formerly known as the Aquatic Resources Trust Fund) for boating safety and fishing education programs

To secure appropriate funding for the Safe Routes to School initiatives

To ensure that other transportation priorities are included and funded in any reauthorization including

Transit in the Parks

Federal Lands Highways Program

Scenic Byways

Congestion Mitigation Air Quality program (CMAQ)

To ensure that current law provisions remain intact for the protected classes of resources under Section 4(f). Congress should reject any proposals to diminish the legal protection of public park and recreation lands from encroachment by federally-aided transportation projects.

2) Recreation as a Vital Means of Promoting Health and Preventing Chronic Disease and Obesity

NRPA Legislative Priority: Gain passage of a comprehensive health and anti-obesity bill as well as related health legislation and appropriations that ensure eligibility of local park and recreation agencies.

Background: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that obesity is now a full-scale epidemic and that obesity related health care costs now exceed $117 billion a year. Children and youth especially benefit from regular physical activity, and developing healthy habits that include active recreation can help prevent obesity into adulthood. About 15 percent of all children are overweight with the highest rates (27%) seen in Hispanic/Latino children, a condition that increases the risk of high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Studies reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association (March 10, 2004) on the increasing rate of mortality attributable to physical inactivity and poor diet suggest that investments in public park and recreation facilities that encourage active lifestyles are not just desirable, but imperative. The 365,000 deaths annually due to physical inactivity and poor diet is the "largest increase among all causes of death," the JAMA report observes. The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) conducted a survey this past winter and spring attempting to determine how communities could address the critical and growing issue of obesity at the community level. Nearly 89% of the managers responding agreed that community park and recreation departments should take the lead in developing communities conducive to active living.

Many conditions and diseases linked to overweight and obesity are life threatening and costly to treat. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has observed that if physically inactive people were to become sufficiently active, the nation could potentially reduce health care costs by over $76 billion a year. If 10% of adults began a regular walking program, $5.6 billion in heart disease costs could be saved. In addition, active recreation helps promote psychological well-being and can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. The benefits of a healthy, physically active lifestyle are long-lasting both mentally and physically.

The National Recreation and Park Association believes that a physically active life-style through recreation is a viable strategy for disease prevention and health promotion for all people. NRPA believes that public parks and recreation facilities offer low-cost opportunities to all Americans of every age, ability, and income level to increase their daily amount of physical activity and thus prevent chronic health conditions.

Stronger congressional and executive branch support for increased public access to recreation opportunities can have the potential to at least stabilize, if not reduce, physical inactivity related health care costs over the long term. With sufficient and reliable funding, new opportunities for outcome-based recreation programs offered by public park and recreation agencies in thousands of American communities will contribute to reducing obesity and improving health for millions of Americans.

NRPA believes that the recreation opportunities available in local and state parks and recreation facilities are critical to the ensuring the health of the American people. These park and recreation resources are close to home, available to persons of all abilities, ages, and income levels. Congressional and health executive strategies should take full advantage of local, state, and national park and recreation lands, facilities, and services.

NRPA Objectives:

To gain passage of a comprehensive health and anti-obesity bill

To ensure that park and recreation agencies are eligible entities in any comprehensive health and/or anti-obesity legislation

To gain passage of the following health-related authorizations and appropriations, including appropriations for recreation programs for persons with disabilities

(Note: At this writing bill information is incomplete; sponsors, bill numbers, and other information will be reported as it becomes available.)

Authorizations:

Healthy Lifestyle and Prevention (HeLP) America Act of 2005

The legislation introduced by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) in the last Congress and likely to be reintroduced in the 109th Congress proposes to improve the health of Americans and reduce health care costs by reorienting the Nation's health care system towards prevention, wellness, and self-care. Senator Harkin may split the bill into separate pieces of legislation this session. NRPA advocates for provisions that all local governments, including parks and recreation agencies be eligible for the competitive grants outlined in the bill (based on S. 2558 of 108th Congress).

Improved Nutrition and Physical Activity Act (IMPACT)

Introduced by Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) in the 108th Congress, and passed by the Senate in 2003, this bill authorizes a variety of community, state, and national programs that provide nutrition and physical activity. The bill would provide up to $60 million in federal grants to local and state governments to plan and implement programs that encourage healthy behaviors, including an active lifestyle. The Senate passed S.1172, but the House never passed its version, H.R. 716. The IMPACT Bill would be a positive step toward solving the nation's obesity epidemic. NRPA supports including park and recreation agencies as directly eligible government entities, rather than as sub-grantees of local health departments (based on S. 1172 of 108th Congress).

The Childhood Obesity Reduction Act and The Prevention of Childhood Obesity Act

Senator Frist will likely reintroduce a bill similar to legislation he introduced in the 108th Congress, S. 2551. NRPA supports the position that any comprehensive legislation addressing anti-obesity initiatives must include an active recreation component, and that parks and recreation agencies are eligible entities for grant funding (based on S. 2551, H.R. 4941, and S. 2894 of 108th Congress).

Urban and Rural Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Act

The bill considered by the 108th Congress, sponsored by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) would authorize $125 million in grants to be used by local public agencies for the development of indoor health promotion centers. Funds could be used for construction, rehabilitation, acquisition and conversion of facilities and enhancement of existing recreational structures. The Bill specifies that funds be split between local government agencies in localities with less than 50,000 persons and local agencies serving more than 50,000. NRPA endorses this legislation (based on H.R. 1022 of 108th Congress).

Wellstone Mental Health Equitable Treatment Act

Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) is expected to reintroduce this bill in the 109th Congress which would prohibit certain employee group health plans from imposing mental health treatment limitations or financial requirements unless comparable limitations and requirements are imposed upon medical &endash; surgical benefits. NRPA supports the provision of appropriate recreation and therapeutic recreation services for individuals with physical or mental limitations (based on S. 486 and H.R. 953 of 108th Congress).

Healthy People, Healthy Choices Act of 2005 (H. R. 161)

This bill directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to create public outreach campaigns to increase the awareness of minority populations, particularly those who are disproportionately impacted by higher incidences of obesity and related diseases, about nutrition and fitness. As written, the bill provides grants to nonprofit organizations only, but NRPA will work to ensure that local parks and recreation departments are included.

Health Empowerment Zone Act of 2005 (H.R. 56)

This Bill directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services to establish health empowerment zone programs in communities that disproportionately experience disparities in health status and health care.

Appropriations:

Recreation for Persons with Disabilities: Most recreation providers would agree that the 54 million individuals with disabilities, 6 million of them children, are under-served in terms of recreation access. The continuing gap between need and actual support for recreation is typified by Congress' action on the FY 2005 omnibus spending bill, which only allocated $2.5 million for recreation and related service grants in the Rehabilitation Services Administration's budget. The President's FY 2006 budget request included the termination of this program completely. NRPA encourages the Congress to reject the President's request to eliminate this program and to instead invest sufficient funds to expand and strengthen community-based therapeutic recreation services.

Child Nutrition Act: The newly authorized child nutrition program may be one target of a deficit reduction strategy by Congress. Federal spending for summer food services, often available in recreation settings, is now a function of how many children are actually served. If capped, only the number of meals that can be paid for with a fixed amount of money will be available.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Funding

NRPA supports an increase in appropriations for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion including the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity and the Division of Adolescent and School Health. The CDC was the target of the majority of the President's FY 2006 budget cuts for the Department of Health and Human Services. However, the CDC needs more funding, not less. The CDC needs additional funds to increase their efforts to reduce unhealthy eating and increase physical activity. Additional funds would complement the President's proposed Steps to a Healthier US initiative, thereby saving lives and reducing U.S. health care costs.

"Steps for a Healthier US" Program

The Labor / HHS / Education appropriations bill provides the funding for the "Steps for a Healthier US" program. This program is administered by the Department of Health and Human Services and funds state and local projects geared toward fighting asthma, diabetes, and obesity. The goal of the initiative is to prevent 75,000 new cases of diabetes, 50,000 asthma-related hospitalizations, and 100,000 new cases of obesity over the course of each fiscal year. The President's FY 2006 budget requested only $47 million in funding for this program; this is the same funding level that the program received in FY 2005. NRPA supports appropriating additional funds to the Steps to a Healthier US initiatives and will work to ensure that local recreation agencies are integral partners in state and local initiatives aided by the program.

3) Secure Funding for Public Lands, Conservation, and Capital Investments in Parks and Recreation

NRPA Legislative Priority: Gain sufficient reliable funding for land conservation and capital investments in parks and recreation resources.

Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) State Assistance Program

The President's FY 2006 budget proposal for the Department of the Interior recommends that the Land and Water Conservation Fund state and local assistance program be terminated. Citing general reasons that the program does not meet core agency responsibilities, has ambiguous data, and that it duplicates activities of other agencies, the Budget in Brief specifically recommends termination of the program because LWCF grants support state and local parks that have alternate sources of funding through state revenues and bonds; that the agency must focus on core federal agency responsibilities; and that the PART Review of 2003 found the program could not adequately measure performance or demonstrate results.

NRPA strongly opposes the recommendation to terminate the LWCF state and local assistance program. NRPA supports an appropriation of $100 million for FY 2006 from the LWCF U.S. Treasury account created for this purpose for re-investment in local and state park systems, recreation facilities, and recreation access for all Americans.

By way of background, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 authorized a program that provides matching grants to States and local governments for the acquisition and development of public outdoor recreation areas and facilities. For forty years, the program has created and maintained a nationwide legacy of high quality recreation areas and facilities. As matching grant recipients, state and local governments agree to manage grant-assisted resources in perpetuity with non-federal funds. LWCF grants have stimulated non-federal investments in the protection and maintenance of recreation resources across the United States.

The LWCF directs that $900 million be annually credited to a U.S. Treasury LWCF account, largely from Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) oil and gas royalty and lease receipts. However, no funds may be expended from the account unless annually appropriated by the Congress, so the amount of grant funds to be made available for matching state and local grants is determined annually in an appropriations bill. The LWCF account has a balance of about $13 billion in authorized but unappropriated funds. The anticipated FY 2006 estimate for total OCS receipts is expected to be $4 billion, a large discrepancy in revenues gained over amounts approved for LWCF purposes. Assistance is apportioned to the states through a two-part formula: 40 percent divided equally among all states; and 60 percent on the basis of need, principally determined by relative population. Once apportioned, projects are selected through an in-state review process.

The House-passed FY 2003 Interior appropriations bill provided $150 million for state/local grants. In FY 2004, Congress appropriated $94.3 million for grants and $89.7 million in FY 2005. Overall, in the past fiscal years, Congress has appropriated $544 million to match state and local park and recreation investments. This funding trend continues the four decades of Executive and Legislative Branch support for this worthy and valuable program that increases the quantity and quality of recreation opportunities for all people. If the proposal to terminate the LWCF state assistance program were to be approved by Congress, it would be a serious loss to states and local communities. NRPA vigorously opposes this recommendation to terminate the LWCF state assistance program.

For nearly four decades the Land and Water Conservation Fund has been the single most important source of federal funds for investments in public recreation resources and public lands for conservation and recreation, especially at the state and local levels. The LWCF has fulfilled its promise "to increase the number of state and local outdoor recreation resources and ensure their availability for public use in perpetuity."

Other Land Conservation and Recreation Legislation

Key legislators are again expected to introduce bills to provide an annual permanent base of funds for parks and recreation. Legislation proposed last year by U.S. senators Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN.) would create an annual trust of $450 million for LWCF state assistance, and $125 million for the UPARR program. A parallel House bill by Don Young (Alaska), George Miller (California) would permanently fund the entire LWCF program at $900 million a year, splitting the total between federal and statewide projects. Both bills face considerable challenges in the present political and fiscal environment, and early word on the President's budget says that the President may wipe out funding for the LWCF state assistance program (see Urgent Action Alert below).

High on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee priority list is a plan to allow access to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska for energy exploration. The debate will occur early in the session during development of the FY 2006 budget resolution, a process that determines overall revenue estimates. When the ANWR initiative was last considered, Sen. Alexander proposed that a percentage of anticipated revenues should be dedicated exclusively to state LWCF purposes. Congress ultimately agreed not to open the refuge for energy exploration. The change in composition of the Senate as a result of 2004 elections may mean an entirely different outcome with four more Senate votes expected for opening ANWR.

Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program (UPARR)

The Urban Park and Recreation Recovery Program (UPARR) has provided matching competitive grants to eligible cities and urban counties in a national program to rehabilitate urban parks and recreation facilities in economically or otherwise distressed neighborhoods. UPARR has received no funding for the past three years, and no funding is proposed again this year in the President's FY 2005 budget. NRPA urges Congress and the President to return funding to this valuable and necessary program at a level of $25 million annually.

Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program

The Rivers and Trails Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) of the National Park Service is a technical assistance program that provides planning assistance and support to local, regional, and state governments that are planning and developing trail systems, blueway and greenway corridors, and other innovative conservation and recreation projects. RTCA is an invaluable program for local governments and regional or special district park systems. RTCA also assists the core mission of the NPS and works with gateway communities and localities around national parks to develop trail corridors and alternative transportation networks that provide access to national parks. NRPA supports a funding level of $13 million for this program and expansion of the technical assistance services of the National Park Service.

Federal Lands to Parks Program

The Department of the Interior's Federal Lands to Parks program, managed by the National Park Service is a small but very important program for state and local park and recreation agencies. It assists in the identification, planning, and transfer of unneeded and surplus federal lands to local and state governments. The next cycle of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Act could affect this program which has helped 78 communities in 23 states gain access to former military properties closed under BRAC. Federal Lands to Parks has assisted in conservation of 10,692 acres to be developed into new public parks and recreation areas. NPS has been requested to assist communities in acquiring parks and recreation facilities at 86 percent of closed military bases. NRPA recommends a program increase in the FLP budget to $1 million per year

HIPAA Technical Correction for Transportation and Recreation

Legislation is expected to be introduced to promote parity in health care coverage for individuals participating in legal forms of transportation and recreation such as motorcycling, snowmobiling, horseback riding, running, and walking. This legislation would correct a loophole created by a Department of HHS rule regarding the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). As an unintended consequence of this rule, certain health insurance benefits can be denied for injuries sustained in connection with those recreational activities.

NPRA Objectives:

To gain Congressional approval of an appropriation for $100 million in FY2006 for state-side LWCF

To ensure that the NPS budget funds the Rivers Trails and Conservation Assistance budget with sufficient funds to meet needs

To gain Executive Branch and Congressional support for funding the Urban Park Recreation and Recovery Program at $25 million for FY2006

To ensure Congressional support and funding for the Federal Lands to Parks program

To support reintroductions of the Get Outdoors Act and the Americans Outdoors Act which would provide sufficient, reliable long-term funding for park and recreation capital investments

To correct the HIPAA loophole and ensure no loss of insurance benefits when participating in legal transportation or recreation activities

Additional background information will also be posted on the NRPA website at www.nrpa.org under Advocacy.

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