Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Outdoor Recreation in Olympia: An Overview of Legislation

By Robert Dengel, Outdoor Advocate Volunteer

The 2013 Legislative Session is shaping up to be one of the more intriguing sessions in recent years. The Legislature starts the session having to address a $2-2.5 billion shortfall due to a budget gap and a recent Washington State Supreme Court decision (McCleary v. State) which held that the Legislature was not adequately meeting their paramount duty to fund K-12 Education. To make matters more interesting two Democrats, Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon, have joined Senate Republicans to form a majority “coalition” that looks to address budget issues without any new revenue. Needless to say those interested in promoting and protecting the great outdoors will have their work their work cut out for them during this session.
"Big Tent Outdoor Recreation Coalition" Legislative Day
Photo by Jim Thode
There are a number of bills that affect outdoor recreation; from the Discover Pass to land acquisitions.

State Parks Funding (also see Discover Pass)
State Parks is currently facing significant budget cuts, in part due to the Discover Pass generating less revenue than expected. State Parks is requesting $27 million from the general fund operating budget to help offset any significant new cuts. State Parks has already reduced its full time staff by a third as result of budget cuts from previous sessions. Any additional cuts will make it even harder to safely keep open parks, which we all enjoy.

SB 5575: Transfers funds from the litter tax over to State Parks. Amends the function of State Parks renewal and stewardship account and the outdoor recreation account for the maintenance and operation of existing facilities.

Discover Pass
In its second year of existence the Legislature has a number of bills that would tweak the Discover Pass. Most of the bills are focused on exemptions.

SB 5080: Allows individuals with a Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) vehicle pass to gain access to lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources where a Discover Pass is required.

SB 5084: Allows disabled veterans the ability to purchase a Discover Pass for $5 instead of $30. The bill also eliminates the temporary parking spots where a Discover Pass is not required.

SB 5097: Allows a married couple to pool their volunteer hours (24 hours are required) to obtain a complimentary Discover Pass.

SB 5266: Allows a person to purchase a Discover Pass through their vehicle renewals.

SB 5289: Allows a Discover Pass holder to display their pass in any prominent location on the vehicle, instead of just their windshield. Exempts those driving on non-gated forest roads managed by the state from needing a Discover Pass. Allows DFW vehicle pass holders to purchase a Discover Pass for $5.

SB 5319: Provides disabled veterans a free Discover Pass.

SB 5391/HB1755: Exempts vehicles with an ORV permit from needing a Discover Pass.

SB 5653/ HB 1530: State Parks would be allowed to request general funds to offset any loss of revenue from Discover Pass reductions and exemptions, based on a report delivered to the legislature. Would also create a greater effort to find and recognize donors towards to State Parks.

SB 5657: Provides a free Discover Pass for individuals with an identified need (e.g. veterans, food stamp recipients), as well as helps ensure access to parks by youth from low income families. Revenue from the Discover Pass, camp and reservation fees would be matched with revenue from the general fund. Also allows a married couple to pool their volunteer hours (see also SB 5097).

Off-Road Vehicles
SB 5513/ HB 1632: Creates a new vehicle tags for wheeled all terrain vehicles (certain types of 4x4s). Funds from the new tags goes into account to pay for ORV education and enforcement programs. . ORVs are allowed to operate on rural roads so long as the vehicle meets a number of safety requirements and drive no faster than 35 mph. The bill also requires that ORV riders under the age 16 years must be supervised by an adult who is within 300 feet at all times.

Land Acquisitions
HB 1704: Requires State Parks to provide written notice to ports and other local jurisdictions 60 days before acquiring land, developing a park, or closing a park, and respond to any requests from those jurisdictions.

SB 5054: Requires legislative approval for State Parks, DFW or DNR to acquire any lands. Such approval would be based in part on a plan submitted by the relevant agency on how they will maintain and operate the land purchased by the acquisition. This bill has passed its first committee.

SB 5057: Prohibits certain private, not-for-profit organizations acquiring real property through state funds (including grants and transfers) from prohibiting or restricting public access for hunting, fishing, trapping, or other outdoor recreation on that property. This bill has passed its first committee.

Capital Budget: The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program grant allows provides funding to state and local agencies to funds parks, trails and water access projects. The current recommended level is $90 million, an increase over the prior biennium.

1 comment:

Monty VanderBilt said...

Thanks for this informative wrap-up. Last year there was also a spate of bills to fine tune the Discover Pass in addition to allowing two vehicles. Seems like it was originally pushed through without a lot of thought about the corner cases.