Legislative update: 2023 session results: Tourism and Kentucky state parks

Published 2:24 pm Monday, July 17, 2023


District 54 Representative

Tourism plays an integral role in Kentucky’s economy and continues to be a key driver of business sales, employment, and tax revenue. In fact, as of last year’s tourism economics study for the tourism, cabinet, 70.5 million visitors spent $7.7 billion dollars in Kentucky in 2021. Those dollars went directly into accommodations, restaurants, recreation, retail, and other areas of our state’s economy.

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During the 2022 Regular Session, we appropriated $75 million dollars to support tourism recovery and investment in local communities. The pandemic took a toll on all industries but tourism bore the brunt when people stayed at home. Without a doubt, an investment this size gives tourism the resources that it needs to be on the path towards not only recovery but also success.

In this week’s column, I would like to share a bit about the tourism legislation that we passed during the 2023 Regular Session. Here are a few highlights:

HB 39 reorganizes the Kentucky Horse Park (KHP) and the duties and functions of the commission to make it more competitive as a national venue. Other states are building venues that take events away from KHP. We need to protect one of the crown jewels of Kentucky. It is imperative that we do everything that we can to keep up with the competition and venues in other states have invested heavily and marketed aggressively to lure events away from the Kentucky Horse Park. This measure provides the tools needed to keep the KHP one of the top horse facilities in the US.

HJR 49 directs the Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet to consult with the Transportation Cabinet and other relevant state and local agencies to develop the Kentucky Women’s History Trail.

HB 519 adds the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Kentucky State Fair Board to Louisville’s tourist and convention commission. The Kentucky State Fair is one of the biggest tourism events in Louisville and it is common sense to include the Fair’s president and CEO on the city’s tourism leadership. This benefits the community and helps ease communications and cooperation. The bill passed on a bipartisan, unanimous vote, and became law despite being vetoed by the Governor.

SB 144 provides private nonprofit organizations access to dollar-for-dollar matching funds from the Kentucky Battlefield Preservation Fund for eligible projects. The measure provides a dollar-for-dollar match for preserving Civil War battlefields and Underground Railroad sites and $3 from the fund for each $1 provided by the private nonprofit organization for preserving Revolutionary War battlefields. Kentucky’s role in the founding of our nation and the defense of our democratic republic is noted in the pages of history. These battlefields provide an opportunity to bring that history to life for tourists, students, and future generations.

HJR 76 authorizes the Office of State Budget Director to release $40 million in capital construction funds to the Department of Parks for campground upgrades, $20 million for utility improvements, and $6 million for broadband expansion for high-speed internet and wireless capabilities across the entire park system.

HB 1 22RS set aside up to $150 million to be utilized by the Department of Parks. The funding was setup for them to make analysis, a report, and allow the General Assembly to review their findings. The department came before the House Appropriations and Revenue Committee during session and gave a report in terms of their vision. It is my hope that they continue working with the committee over the interim to ensure that the department has an overall plan for the money before we release it. After all, we only have one chance to invest a dollar, and we owe it to taxpayers to ensure this money invested into the park system in ways that can positively impact tourism for years to come.

Our parks can be an incredible asset to our state, attracting tourists and providing a safe, fun entertainment option for residents. Wherever you travel in Kentucky, you are never far from one of our 44 Kentucky State Parks. Each park has its own unique characteristics such as, outdoor recreation, museums, cabins and cottages. This summer and fall, I encourage you to take the opportunity, travel the commonwealth, and visit our wonderful state parks.

Even though we are not in session now, I want to hear from you regarding your questions or concerns. I can be reached here at home or through the toll-free message line at 1-800-372-7181. You can also contact me via e-mail at Daniel.Elliott@LRC.KY.GOV.