The Texas Legislature took the final vote to send a constitutional amendment establishing the Centennial Parks Conservation Fund to voters in November. The trust fund would consist of money appropriated to the fund by the legislature; gifts, grants, and donations received for the fund; and investment earnings on interest earned. The trust fund would be used for the creation and improvement of state parks.
This amendment was introduced as Senate Joint Resolution 74 on March 6, 2023. On April 20, the state Senate passed SJR 74 by a vote of 26-3 with two absent. On May 15, the state House passed an amended version of SJR 74 by a vote of 123-21 with five not voting. On May 21, the state Senate adopted the amended version, but the vote was not immediately published.
The enabling legislation for the amendment—Senate Bill 1648—also passed on May 17 and awaits the governor’s signature. It amends the Parks and Wildlife Code to provide for the trust fund and authorizes the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to administer the fund, including requesting distributions from the fund for the creation and improvement of state parks. The law prohibits TPWD from using the funds for pay increases, employee benefits, or operation costs. SB 1648 would take effect on Jan. 1, 2024, if the amendment passes.
As of 2023, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department oversees more than 640,000 acres of land including 89 state parks, historic sites, and natural areas.
Luke Metzger, executive director of Environment Texas, said, “This historic legislation would create a new golden age for our state parks. 2023 marks the centennial of the Texas state parks system and we have a lot to celebrate. What a great birthday present to give all Texans for the state parks system’s 100th.”
The amendment is one of eight that have been certified for the ballot. The legislature has also voted to send amendments related to:
- issuing bonds for conservation districts;
- establishing a right to farming and ranching;
- increasing the mandatory retirement age for state judges and justices;
- abolishing the office of Galveston County treasurer;
- providing for tax exemptions on medical equipment and inventory
- prohibiting a wealth tax; and
- providing for tax exemptions on childcare facilities.