In rare session, Senate advances bill to fund $20B backlog at national parks

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June 12 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate advanced a bipartisan conservation bill early Friday during a rare session that was prompted by some lawmakers who refused to delay voting on the measure until next week.

The measure, which some have called the most significant conservation legislation in a generation, would permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund with $900 million annually and allocate $9.5 billion over five years to address a $20 billion maintenance backlog for national parks and public lands.

The Senate voted 65-19 in favor of the Great American Outdoors Act at 1 a.m. Friday. Sixteen senators did not vote.

The proposal has broad bipartisan support, but after it passed a procedural vote Wednesday several Republican senators refused to grant unanimous consent to lay over its next procedural vote until Monday, which would have allowed senators to adjourn for the weekend.

Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and others objected to a move by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell to close debate on the bill, and sought amendments. He said the proposal worsens "our already highly problematic federal public lands policy."

The bill, however, is on track to pass with no amendments and President Donald Trump has said he'll sign it if it's passed by Congress.

The Great American Outdoors Act is next scheduled for three additional procedural votes on Monday and is expected to pass.

The National Parks Service said last year it has a $12 billion backlog of deferred maintenance that has compiled for decades, and if unresolved it could threaten the safety of park visitors and staff.

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