The 2011 Legislative Session Commences!
There is never a pause for breath on the first day of Washington's legislative session, and today was no exception.
With just three months to balance a budget that has a $4.6 billion hole, elected officials start at a sprint and go faster from there. Sure, there are some rests in the session's middle as the flurry of introduced bills and resolutions work their way through the arcane machinery of government. But we who lobby this body operate at a breathless pace until those rests. So, pardon me while I catch my breath!
This year, the legislature will be deliberating over some bills that impact hikers, and I want to tell you about them. One bill would charge users of DNR and Fish and Wildlife lands $10 per person for a day visit. Another is a proposal to merge Natural Resource agencies such as DNR, Fish and Wildlife and State Parks. A third bill comprises legislation to increase the amount of fuel tax that can flow into the Non-Highway and Off-Road Vehicle Activities (NOVA) Program. (NOVA uses 1% of the state gas tax generated by people driving on roads not maintained by the state to fund recreation opportunities for both non-motorized and motorized trail users.)
WTA has concerns about the aforementioned DNR/WDFW fee legislation, and will be working with the agency - and introducing legislation - that would create a much more sensible and reasonable user fee system. We're not opposed to fees, but we feel strongly that they should be consistent with fees charged by other agencies and should not impose an undue burden on people using the backcountry. Although we're working up a bill of our own, we continue to hope that DNR's proposal will change for the better in response to the user feedback that the agency and legislators are receiving.
This week, the legislature is getting down to the business of deliberating on bills and the budget. Committees are meeting mostly in work sessions right now, but I'll be in Olympia most of this week to talk with legislators, sit in on work sessions and confab with lobbyists and agency staff.
Stay tuned for more as the session unfolds! It's going to be interesting and challenging, to say the very least.