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Senate can vote on preserving historic war sites and a new cabin fee structure

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The Senate can soon vote on two bills that would help preserve historic American war sites. It can also vote on a bill designed to make the Forest Service cabin fee structure fairer. Three proposals that have been hopping around Congress for several years were officially reported out of committee and placed on the Senate Legislative Calendar for possible consideration and a vote when the Senate returns from its Memorial Day recess next week. The three reports became available online on the congressional website on Wednesday, May 28. The Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources approved the bills last November but did not officially report them until last week.

The bills include the Gettysburg National Military Park Expansion Act (S. 782), which would add the Gettysburg Train Station to the park. President Abraham Lincoln delivered his famed Gettysburg Address at the station. The bill also would allow the National Park Service (NPS) to acquire 45 acres of nearby land by donation and if that fails, to buy it from willing sellers. The Congressional Budget Office says it wouldn't cost more than about $1 million to buy the land if necessary. A non-profit would run programs at the station, so operating costs to NPS would be negligible.

And Civil War historic sites aren't the only ones that could get protected under pending legislation. The committee also sent for Senate to consider the American Battlefield Protection Program Amendments Act of 2013 (H.R. 1033), which has already passed the House in a slightly different form. The bill would amend the American Battlefield Protection Act (ABPA) of 1996, which only covers Civil War sites, to include Revolutionary War and War of 1812 places. The Senate version includes an amendment saying that no funds authorized under the program could be used for lobbying, which is standard in appropriations bills.

The bill would allow grants to state and local governments, non-profits and partnerships to buy land from willing sellers. It would require a report to Congress from NPS describing the lands bought and any changes made to them. NPS would get five years to file the report. The bill would extend ABPA authorization through 2018. Technically, it expired last year.

Finally, the committee reported the Cabin Fee Act of 2013 (S. 1341). The bill would set up an 11-tier fee structure for owners of fees in national forests. The U.S. Forest Service would have to assess all cabins within two years. Fees would get adjusted for inflation. When owners sell homes, they would have to pay a $1,200 transfer fee.

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