The full Senate voted 40-0 Thursday in favor of legislation requiring advance notice before state parks can be closed. Sen. Jerry Ellis presented SB 1959 both in committee and on the floor. The measure, authored by Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, and co-authored by Ellis, D-Valliant, would require the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department to notify local governments before closing any state park, parkland or public recreation facility within the state agency’s jurisdiction.
“In 2013, the Oklahoma Tourism Commission voted to take away the status of Hugo State Park. That would have been devastating to our local economy,” Ellis said. “Hugo State Park survived the axe, but the year before, seven other state parks were not so lucky, and all of them were located in rural Oklahoma. People need to remember—as goes rural Oklahoma, so goes Oklahoma. Simply shutting down these parks with no warning and without giving our rural areas adequate opportunity to make their case will ultimately hurt the whole state.”
The legislation would require Tourism to provide 60 days’ notice to the governing authority of each municipality and county that was home to a state park or similar facility that was slated for closure or to have its operating hours slashed by 50 percent or more. The notice must be made in writing and sent to the chairperson of the county commissioners and the mayor of the municipality.
“The Department of Tourism is about promoting and helping support destinations and activities that can boost our economy—but I am here to tell you that rural Oklahoma is just as important to that mission as our metropolitan areas,” Ellis said. “The dollars spent by tourists in our rural communities are vital to their ability to grow, prosper, and attract and keep jobs and workers.”
SB 1959 now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.