Dark Skies bill sees light in Texas Lege

Dark Sky communities in Hays County are one step closer to an effort to be able to use revenues to protect them from light pollution and encourage astrotourism.

House Bill (HB) 4158, the Dark Sky Preservation bill by Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood), would allow small cities to use revenue from their municipal hotel occupancy tax (HOT) for the construction and maintenance of infrastructure that reduces light pollution and sky glow. 

The bill passed the out of the Texas House of Representatives on May 12, a key step in the bill’s journey to becoming law. 

The bill is directly connected to tourism as dark sky communities attract scientists, photographers and astro-enthusiasts to view the pristine night sky of Western Hays County. 

“Tourism is a key industry in the Texas Hill Country,” Zwiener said. “Bed and breakfasts, inns and hotels all rely on our dark skies to attract and retain visitors. This bill will give our communities one more tool to protect the night sky and bring more astronomical tourists to local businesses.” 

In Hays County, Dripping Springs and Wimberley are certified dark sky cities in Texas. Horseshoe Bay is the third International Dark Sky community in the state.

Although Wimberley does not collect HOT at this time, the bill could pave the way for discussion about the future. 

“HOT funds are very limited in how they can be spent,” said Wimberley Councilmember Christine Byrne. “I support the efforts to allow HOT funds to be used to preserve our dark sky tourism. This is a win, win for everyone.” 

In neighboring Dripping Springs, the annual Texas Night Sky Festival attracts more than 3,000 visitors. The influx of domestic and international traffic helps fill the number of mom and pop lodging and hotel businesses in both cities. 

Byrne said she is proud Wimberley has the dark sky designation, as very few municipalities are awarded the title.

“We are connected to both land and sky here in the Hill Country,” she said. “Dark skies are for everyone to enjoy and are vital to the health of people, wildlife and our Wimberley ecotourism-based economy.”

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