Lawmakers Fine Tune Discover Pass Regs to Help State Parks

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March 9, 2012 by   - () Leave a Comment

Washington state Lawmakers are pondering a bill that would allow two vehicles to be registered with a single Discover Pass for parking at state-owned recreational facilities.

Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 2373, concerning the management of state recreational resources, passed the Senate 30-17 on March 6. The amended bill returns to the House for reconsideration, the Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle reported.

The measure concerns the implementation and sale of the Discover Pass.

The Discover Pass was created during last year's legislative session and went into effect July 1. An annual pass costs $30, while the day-use permit is $10. It is required on all vehicles that access or park on recreational lands.

The original legislation was created to make up for the loss in state general fund support. During the 2007-09 biennium, state general fund support made up 66 percent of Washington State Parks' operating budget. That support has shrunk to 12 percent.

The bill would make the pass transferable between two vehicles.

"That's good for everybody," Conconully resident and ATV enthusiast Tim Weller said. "ATVs are exempt from the pass, but there's a lot of people around here that have more than one towing vehicle."

"I would have to say that transferability makes reaction access easier for fishermen, or anyone else," fly fisherman Dale Crandall, Loomis, said.

The legislation also grants Washington State Parks, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources the authority to create a family Discover Pass, as long as the price does not exceed $50. The family pass would be fully transferable among vehicles. It would not require a license plate number on the pass to be valid.

State parks also would have the authority to use unstaffed collection stations to sell the permit. A parks employee would collect and verify the funds daily.

The legislation clarifies the use of the Discover Pass during events held on recreational lands by leaving it to the discretion of officials at the parks agency. Officials may waive pass requirements or set fees, depending on a variety of details including the costs and benefits to the state, the public service provided by the event and other public interest factors.

In the Senate, the latest version of the bill was adopted under a striker amendment, which replaced the original language of the bill passed Feb. 28 by the House. Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, crafted the striker amendment, which was adopted with bipartisan support.

The Senate bill eliminates a House-approved $10 recreational vehicle registration parks support fee, which would have gone into effect immediately and would have expired July 1, 2015. Proceeds would have helped maintain state parks.

The Senate version also removes provisions that would have given discounts to senior citizens, the permanently disabled and veterans disability pass holders.

Fees for services, donations and dedicated funds from the federal government make up the rest.

Washington State Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mark Brown said revenue from Discover Pass sales is 60 percent less than originally projected.

The original projection for sales through December 2011 was $19.38 million. Actual revenue was $8.8 million.

That shortfall and the threat of park closures led many legislators to attempt to revise the original Discover Pass law as an effort to boost sales and help state parks.

When vehicle owners renew their license tabs, a $5 donation to Washington State Parks is included, but owners can decline the fee. Under the measure passed in the Senate, the opt-out donation program would be expanded to include mopeds, off-road vehicles, trucks and buses.

Also adopted was an amendment to eliminate a provision in both the House bill and Senate revision that would allow hotel-motel tax collected on state park land to be distributed into the state parks renewal and stewardship account, which was established to help fund parks maintenance and operation. Currently, revenue generated from sales of lodging services helps fund local tourism promotion.

The bill is "a big life line," Brown said. "It allows us to undo some of the staff changes we were forced to make, and keep all 125 parks open."

Brown said he hopes the House accepts the measure.

House members can accept the Senate's amended version or send it to a joint committee to reach a compromise before it can be sent to the governor for final approval.

The amended bill includes an emergency clause allowing immediate implementation upon passage and the governor's approval.

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