WASHINGTON – It is considered a landmark piece of legislation impacting Montana’s public lands.
The Great American Outdoors Act is on its way to becoming law after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell allowed for a vote to end debate on the bill earlier this week.
WHAT THE BILL DOES
The Great American Outdoors Act is a public lands and water protection bill.
Montana has around 30 million acres of public lands, which many have experienced through hiking or camping.
The proposed piece of legislation permanently funds the Land and Water Conservation Fund and helps with a maintenance backlog.
It is estimated that around $900 million will be available annually across the country to keep these areas of nature accessible.
“We are on the cusp on passing the most historic conservation legislation in 50 years,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said Tuesday in Washington.
“Isn’t it ironic that it will take public lands to bring a divided government and nation together?" Daines said.
“We get to work but we love to play – and that is Montana,” he added.
WHY PASS IT NOW?
The legislation is hardly a new idea. For years, Daines has promised to pass similar legislation for constituents but was met with resistance by some Republicans – including McConnell, who controls what bills are brought up for a vote on the floor of the Senate.
Some consider this a gift from McConnell to Daines, as well as Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who are both up for reelection this year. Both senators, who are considered vulnerable and crucial to McConnell’s plans of keeping control of the Senate, plan to campaign off passing the legislation.
Daines faces Montana Gov. Steve Bullock in a race expected to attract big spending from out of state. Gardner also has a tough draw, facing former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in the general election.
Scripps' Washington Correspondent Joe St. George asked McConnell about the timing of the bill Tuesday.
VIDEO: I ask @senatemajldr McConnell if he handed @SenCoryGardner @SteveDaines an election year gift by letting the Great Outdoors Act pass the US Senate? Both Senators crucial to GOP maintaining majority and both claim this as a major accomplishment for their constituents. pic.twitter.com/qFhhhLnjRf— Joe St. George (@JoeStGeorge) June 9, 2020
“Did you hand them an election year gift by allowing this to go forward five months before election day?” St. George asked McConnell.
“Well what we had was a unique opportunity to actually make a law,” McConnell said.
“Yeah it is in proximity to the election but nobody said you should quit doing things just because there is an election – we have one every two years,” McConnell said.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislation when it makes it to his desk.