February 2, 2011

Federation supports major user-fee plan to save Parks, F&W and NR; new bills introduced today

Discover Pass idea to raise replacement funds to save state parks and also help programs in the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Department of Natural Resources got a quick hearing this morning in the Senate Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee.

Senate Bill 5622 was just introduced yesterday. The House counterpart, HB 1796, was introduced today.

The $30 pass would allow public use of state parks and land managed by DNR and DFW. It aims to raise $71 million to replace lost general fund money, including the $60 million the governor would cut for parks. The governor would cut two-thirds of general fund money for parks in the 2011-2013 budget and the remaining one-third in the 2013-2015 budget, agency officials testified.

Only a dozen or so of the state's 119 parks are self-sustaining. So without replacement funding, the rest are in jeopardy.

"The alternative is closing or mothballing many if not most of our state parks," Statewide Parks Local 1466 President Brian Yearout testified.

"State parks receive 40 million visits per year. In this economy, state parks offer an affordable getaway for working families."

The Discover Pass saves jobs, conservation and safety, he said.

"Keeping these areas open keeps people employed, especially in these more rural hunting and fishing areas where unemployment tends to be higher," Yearout said. "And these communities surrounding these recreational areas depend on user patronage and dollars.

"In regards to conservation, it ensures that these lands are not sold or mothballed, which we never recover cheaply, if at all. And this bill ensures these areas stay safe and are maintained in an efficient manner."

The bill's prime sponsor, Sen. Kevin Ranker of the 40th District, said SB 5622 is a "work in progress" and will be tweaked to address some concerns about how it would work.

But losing these natural resource lands to the public is not an option, he said.

"You should be able to pile everyone in a car and go for a hike," Ranker said.

Leading the opposition is retired state Rep. Lynn Kessler, who represented the 24th District until her term ended in January. Kessler was the No. 2 Democrat in the House.


Federation-initiated legislation to extend binding arbitration to campus police at state colleges and universities has been introduced: House Bill 1736 and Senate Bill 5606. This follows Federation-supported legislation to extend binding arbitration to Community Corrections and juvenile rehabilitation employees (HB 1291/SB 5368).

The governor's bill to end the earlier retirement actuarial reductions for PERS 2 and PERS 3 enrollees enacted in 1995 for new hires after July 1, 2011, has been introduced. It's HB 1742. This bad bill has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

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