HB 698, preventing creation of any new State Parks, passes MO House - but with Amendment allowing Rock Island Trail State Park

HB 698, sponsored by Rep. Pietzman of Troy, has just passed the Missouri House by a voice vote. The bill prevents Missouri State Parks from purchasing any new land until all current deferred maintenance is up to date.

HB 698 would have stopped any new state parks--including the Rock Island Trail--but a friendly amendment saved the trail

As we warned in a previous article, and discussed with legislators yesterday at our annual Capitol Day, HB 698 as originally drafted would have prevented State Parks from accepting the 144 miles of the Rock Island railroad corridor that Ameren is prepared to donate to Missouri State Parks later this year.

That is the bad news. Now the good news:

Thanks to the hard work of the Missouri Rock Island Trail, Inc. (MoRIT), Rock Island communities up and down the corridor, and many of you who have contacted your legislators on this issue, the House also adopted House Amendment 1 (HA 1).

HA 1 allows MO State Parks to accept donated land--such as the Rock Island Trail.

So the trail can move forward--and even more important, the Missouri House has sent a signal to Governor Greitens that it is OK for the state to receive that Rock Island land for future use as a state park.

Even with the amendment, there will an important restriction on the Rock Island Trail State Park

Though HA 1 is good news, there is one caveat: HA 1 also specifies that no statemoney can be spent on improvements to the donated land (ie, to the new Rock Island Trail State Park) until all state parks deferred maintenance is up to date. 

During House floor debate, HB 698 sponsor Rep. Pietzman agreed that deferred maintenance will never but up to date. The standard is essentially, on purpose, set to be an impossible goal.

Capitol Day visitors talk about Missouri's Rock Island Trail State Park
Capitol Day visitors talk about Missouri's Rock Island Trail State Park with Rep. Warren Love of Warsaw

For the Rock Island Trail State Park, that means that the bill will allow State Parks to receive the donated land, but then state parks will never be allowed to use any state funds to improve that donated land.

That is, clearly, far from an an ideal situation.

The positives--how the Rock Island can move forward even if HB 698 is finally approved and signed

On the plus side, HA 1--on purpose, and thanks to negotiations between the sponsor and Rock Island supporters--allows the trail to move forward in these ways:

  • The donated Rock Island railroad land can be received--and the Missouri House just sent Governor Greitens a strong signal that it is OK for him to receive that valuable donation
     
  • Local communities and supporters can mobilize local funds, federal funds, private funds, and essentially any other type of fund they can find to develop and improve the Rock Island Trail. Only state funds are restricted.
     
  • Rock Island Trail supporters can go back to the General Assembly at a later date to request use of state funds to develop the park. This is really the crux of what the sponsors are after with this bill--they want General Assembly approval of major new parks projects.

The bill has passed its first major hurdle--but is not yet passed into law. What's next?

All of the above is still a hypothetical situation, because the bill has just now passed the Missouri House.  Next stop is the Missouri Senate, where a committee hearing, vote, and full chamber vote may or may not be forthcoming in the remaining 4-5 weeks of the legislative session.

If the bill is passed by the Senate, then signed by Governor Greitens--a near certainty, if the bill is passed by both House and Senate--then the bill will become law later this year, and will become the new reality that governs the future of the Rock Island Trail State Park and all other future Missouri State Parks.

How can you help?

In the meanwhile, it will be very helpful if Rock Island Trail supporters contact their Missouri State Senators, and Governor Greitens, to let them know that you support the Rock Island Trail State Park.

Technical details

Missouri's Rock Island Trail will pass through--and help the economy of--numerou

Working to create a seamless, interconnected statewide trail network is one of the ways the Missouri Bicycle & Pedestrian Federation accomplishes the goals of its Vision for Bicycling and Walking in Missouri. One of the goals of that vision is the creation of a world-class bicycle and pedestrian transportation network in Missouri.

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