House Passes Massive Heritage Area Bill, But Not Without Controversy

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1483, the “Celebrating America’s Heritage Act.” The bill would create six new national heritage areas, including the controversial Journey Through Hallowed Ground heritage area, and increase federal funding for nine existing heritage areas by 50 percent.

That’s the bad news.

But the National Center for Public Policy Research’s Peyton Knight sees some good news:

The somewhat good news is that the bill was hotly debated on the floor of the House, and when it was finally put to a vote, 122 congressmen (all Republicans) voted against it. This represents the most opposition to a heritage area boondoggle since 1994, when the House passed the “American Heritage Areas Partnership Program,” which received 137 “no” votes and later died in the Senate.

H.R. 1483 passed despite the objections of congressmen Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and Virgil Goode (R-VA), who recognize the threat the Journey Through Hallowed Ground heritage area poses to local governance and the rights of property owners in their districts. In a rather unprecedented move, promoters of the heritage area in Congress opted to force the heritage designation on congressmen Bartlett and Goode, rejecting the Congressmen’s request to have their districts removed from the heritage area’s boundaries.

During debate on the floor of the House, Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) made strong arguments against H.R. 1483 and stressed the need to return to fiscal sanity and better protect property rights. He pointed out that if two congressmen can be run roughshod with a heritage area designation they do not want, so too can property owners within the boundaries of a heritage area. Congressman Bishop also entered into the Congressional Record a coalition letter(pdf) spearheaded by The National Center and signed by 114 groups and local leaders calling for an end to National Heritage Areas.

Congressman Bartlett made an impassioned argument for strong property rights protections and a fiscal restraint, neither of which is represented in H.R. 1483. Congressman Bartlett also pointed out the irony that H.R. 1483 doesn’t so much hallow America’s heritage as it tramples upon it.

“All of our nation’s founders knew of the intimate connection between personal liberty, taxpayers’ interests and property rights,” said Bartlett. “H.R. 1483 tramples over rather than honors these hallowed principles.”

One month ago, when the Celebrating America’s Heritage Act passed the House Natural Resources Committee along mostly party lines, 15 Republicans on the committee signed a letter in opposition to the measure, calling it “a thumb in the eye to private property rights advocates and fiscal responsibility.”

“Those who will not celebrate are private property owners who may have an empowered, enriched, and Congressionally-blessed heritage area management entity to spar with,” reads the letter.

Earlier this week, The Heritage Foundation published an excellent report on national heritage areas, and suggests that if H.R. 1483 makes it to the president’s desk, he should veto it. The Heritage report concludes:

“H.R. 1483 would deepen the federal government’s involvement in select local economic development initiatives at considerable cost to taxpayers and at the expense of the core mission of the NPS [National Park Service], whose faltering stewardship over the nation’s most precious natural and historical places leaves much to be desired. Of potentially greater concern is the growing role for NHAs [national heritage areas] in interfering with the property rights of private citizens. This Congress should reject approaches that designate new NHAs or expand existing ones. If H.R. 1483 is passed, the President should veto it.”

For more on National Heritage Areas, a few of our more recent publications are here, here (pdf), here, and here, among others; some oldies-but-goodies on the subject are here, here, here, hereand here. Or just plug “national heritage area” into the National Center’s search engine; goodness knows you’ll find plenty to read.

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The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.