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January 6, 2023 Rachel Blakeslee

National Heritage Area Act Becomes Law

A Note from Our Executive Director

Dear Friends,

I am elated to be able to bring you the best news of 2023: yesterday, January 5th 2023, President Biden signed the National Heritage Area Act (S. 1942) into law. KMTA is hereby reauthorized for another 15 years. This legislation did a lot more than just reauthorize the existence of KMTA. It created standard criteria for the funding management and designation of NHAs across the country, and even authorized 7 new NHAs. 

It feels impossible describe what all went into making this happen, but it is an underdog story for the ages. Two weeks before Christmas we thought we’d exhausted every avenue to get S. 1942 passed. It failed to make it into the Omnibus and as an amendment to the National Defense Act. Then in the worst turn of events, the assumedly strong Public Lands Package fell apart, and with it our inclusion in what was our only plausible remaining vehicle for passage at the end of the 117th Congress. If you’d have been on the ANHA board call that week, you would have felt a horribly dismal energy and palpable sense of defeat radiate through the computer screen. It was a gut punch of the greatest magnitude. In that moment, we were confronted with the reality that to get S. 1942 across the finish line, we’d have to accomplish the impossible: have it pass as a standalone bill. This would require it passing out of the Senate with unanimous support, and then out of the House by a 2/3rds majority. So, we pulled up our bootstraps and threw EVERYTHING we had left at the fire: countless hours of additional emailing and calling congressional reps and their staffers, flooding the inboxes of those reps, their teams, and Senate and House leadership with hundreds of emails, and harnessing the support of partners and community members (like you!) to do the same. Needless to say we made some noise. And against all odds, we watched the following happen just days before Christmas:

  1. The Senate passed S. 1942 without opposition from a single member

  2. The House Rules Committee then convened and ruled that S. 1942 would only require a simple majority (not 2/3rds) to pass the House

  3. And on December 22nd in a final momentous act, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the legislation by a bi-partisan vote of 326-95 (surpassing the simple majority vote we needed). 

The National Heritage Area Act was one of the last bills passed in the 117th Congress. 

In the end, though we were forced onto the most difficult path possible, having S. 1942 voted on as a standalone bill rather than as an amendment to another was a tremendous service to NHAs. Every member of Congress now knows what a National Heritage Area is. Every vote we received was for us alone. This landmark legislation is proof that America’s National Heritage Areas are unequivocally valued. It is a testament to the importance of the work we do.

What we achieved together is truly historic. It is a direct reflection of our determination, resilience, and collective strength. Through this years’ long advocacy effort, we’ve earned real respect from Congress, many of whom conveyed we pretty much broke their intake systems with the volume of outreach requesting support for S. 1942. Our voice —YOUR voice—rocked the ship. On behalf of KMTA, I want to extend my profound gratitude for your tireless work to help us save our National Heritage Areas. 

We are so looking forward to serving our KMTA communities and users for an additional 15 years (at least). 😉

My deepest thanks,
Rachel