The Legislative session kicked off on January 7th, moving around 300 pre-filed bills and setting the stage for the state budget. With a new Democratic Governor, Republican supermajority in the House and Senate, and a situation where state expenses are growing faster than revenue, the budget will be the primary challenge throughout this session.

The budget discussion will be the main focus for KCC as well, as these decisions will directly impact the state’s ability to support and maintain its natural areas. The Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, the state’s ONLY source of funding for state land conservation, is again under threat of having funds “swept” into the General Fund, as has happened during the last several budget sessions. While KCC and allies were successful in slowing down some of these “sweeps” in some budget years, the fund cannot sustain another sweep. We are hoping the proposal that comes from the Governor’s office recognizes this fact before the situation is debated in the legislature. At the moment, the Governor will set the stage in his budget that is due to come out later this month.

Action #1 this week—Contact the Governor’s Office: Please CALL or EMAIL the Governor [link HERE].Tell the Governor: “We support the state’s natural lands….please support the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund in the state budget.” And also tell them “We do not support sweeping funds from the Heritage Land Conservation Fund into the General Fund.” For more information about this issue, see our handout with details about the Heritage Fund.

Action #2—Also Contact Legislators:  It is also not too early to begin engaging your lawmakers on this issue. KCC has compiled an information handout HEREand a list of natural lands that benefit from Heritage Land Funds, and paired these with the legislators who represent the districts where these lands reside [LINK HERE].We encourage you to review the list, and if you see a natural area of importance to you, we urge you to CALL or EMAIL the listed legislator for that area, and let them know that you value natural tourism, and support the funds for these areas.  Let them know if you recreate in these areas or spend tourism dollars in communities related to these areas. And then contact your own legislator and begin letting them know how important all of these lands are to you. To find out who your legislator is, click HERE.

The Heritage Land fund was one of many topics covered in detail during the KCC Legislative Summit and Annual Meeting this past Saturday. Nearly 100 of KCC’s members and supporters attended the conference at the University of Louisville, which included a review of the state budget process, detail analysis of our initial bill recommendations, and a “deep dive” into some specific issue areas.The Summit kicked off with a robust panel of lawmakers who gave the audience their best tips on how to be a more effective citizen advocate when engaging in Frankfort. We want to thank Senator Morgan McGarvey, Rep. Mary Lou Marzian and Rep. Lisa Willner for their valuable insight and participation.

Our Keynote for the Summit was Ms. Heather Hurlburt, Director of New Models for Policy Changeat New America’s Political Reform Program. Ms. Hurlburt has lead research into how policy advocacy can be adapted to be effective even in highly polarized political landscapes, and even with highly charged topics such as climate change. We recorded some of Ms. Hurlburt’s keynote, which can be found HERE.

We also took some time to go into detail on one of KCC’s priority bills, HB44 (Gooch)which threatens the rights of citizens who wish to protest certain identified infrastructure. You can find an analysis of HB44 from KCC HERE (prefile bill ID BR204), and also from Greenpeace HERE.

We also used much of the afternoon to educate our constituents on the situation at Bernheim Arboretum, their plans for wildlife corridors, and negotiations to try to avoid the conflicts between development that impacts their land and their core mission. You can find Bernheim’s presentation HERE as well as other documents from this weekend’s KCC Legislative Summit at the conference website, which can be found HERE.

Now is the time to contact the Governor, before the budget is set in stone, to ensure that our core funding for land conservation stays intact. And we hope you will sign up for a lobby day with KCC during the session.

Our thanks to all our friends and allies who participated in this year’s Legislative Summit!