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The Legislature: What's In, What's Out, What's Next

Posted by Jonathan Guzzo at Feb 28, 2013 04:45 PM |
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WTA runs down the status of bills in Olympia pertaining to the Discover Pass and hikers.

Last Friday was a big day in Olympia. The first big legislative deadline passed, on which date bills had to make it out of their committee of origin or be consigned to reintroduction next legislative session.

A number of bills touching on the Discover Pass were introduced this session. Some of them are still kicking, some could come back in another form and others will not reemerge until session is over. The legislature will now start talking seriously about the biennial budget. This is where the real action starts, and we're already seeing some movement to fund State Parks at $27 million - in line with the request WTA made at Lobby Day on February 7. Everyone who attended Lobby Day should give themselves a vigorous pat on the back!

Here's the rundown with a little editorializing on each bill that effects hikers.

Living, breathing bills

  • SB 5084: Creates a $5 lifetime disability Discover Pass and has been referred to Ways and Means. While WTA is sensitive to the importance of access to state lands for disabled people, the legislature must reckon with the cost of providing reduced-price passes.
  • SB 5289: Ends the requirement that requires people driving on Department of Natural Resources (DNR) or Fish and Wildlife roads to display a Discover Pass. People parking at recreation facilities must still have a pass. It also allows agencies to sell Discover Passes in bulk at less than $30 per pass to retailers and partners. There is no mechanism to account for revenue lost from discounting, and WTA is concerned that this approach could result in lost potential revenue. SB 5289 is eligible for a Senate floor vote.
  • SB 5097: Allows married couples to combine their volunteer hours for the purpose of earning a complimentary Discover Pass. The legislation has passed the Senate and been referred to the House Community Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs Committee.
  • SB 5391: Allows off-road vehicles (ORVs) bearing an ORV decal and operating in an ORV area to not carry a Discover Pass. The vehicle in which the ORV operator towed his or her ORV is still subject to the Discover Pass requirement. This legislation has been referred to Senate Ways and Means. While we have some concerns about the revenue impacts of this proposal, we understand that the requirement to carry two passes could be irksome to ORV operators.
  • HB 1935: Matches each Discover Pass sold with an equal amount of general fund money. WTA enthusiastically supports this proposal, which also reimburses State Parks for the free or reduced-cost passes that the legislature has required them to provide. Finally, it allows State Parks license plate holders to access State Parks without a Discover Pass. HB 1935 has been referred to the Appropriations Committee in the House.
  • SB 5513: This is a very complex piece of legislation that creates a legislative definition of a four-wheeled ATV, requires ATVs to have metal plates issued with ORV registration, and allows ORVs to be used on roads posted under 35 MPH in municipalities under 15,000 residents, unless prohibited by local ordinance. While the metal plate benefits law enforcement, the fact that local roads are open unless posted closed to ATVs should be reversed; towns should be able to choose on a case-by-case basis which roads they open up. This legislation has been referred to the Senate Transportation Committee, but has not been heard. It has until tomorrow (Friday, March 1) to move out of Committee.
  • SB 5653: This legislation expands the role of the State Parks Foundation and allows Washington State Parks to enter into public-private partnerships and, like HB 1935, dedicates $27 million to State Parks over the next biennium. However, this legislation includes the same bulk Discover Pass sales provision that we are concerned about in SB 5289. We clearly support the general fund appropriation element of this bill, but have concerns about the bulk sale provision. SB 5653 has been referred to Senate ways and Means.

Bills that are over, at least for now

  • SB 5319: This bill would have provided a free Discover Pass to anyone with a lifetime veteran's disability pass issued by the state, and would have waived Discover Pass citations for anyone who could prove that they hold such a pass. While it received a hearing, it did not make it out of Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee.
  • SB 5266: SB 5266 would have made purchasing the Discover Pass opt-out at the time of vehicle tab renewal, increasing the number of passes sold significantly. This legislation did not receive a hearing in its committee of origin.
  • HB 1755: This is the companion bill to SB 5391. While SB 5391 received a hearing in time, HB 1755 did not.
  • HB 1632: HB 1632 is the House companion bill to SB 5513. The latter legislation may still receive a vote in time, since it was introduced in Senate Transportation. The former did not.

The jury is still out

  • SB 5657: This legislation creates a series Discover Pass exemptions, then mandates that the legislature reimburse the Discover Pass agencies for any free or reduced-cost passes they provide. It also sets up a 1-to-1 match of pass revenues with general fund appropriations. Finally, SB 5657 allows a State Parks license plate to substitute for a Discover Pass at State Parks. While this legislation did not move from its committee of origin by last Friday, it deals with amounts of money large enough to be considered necessary to implement the budget, so it still lives an uneasy half-life, and might become part of an eventual budget compromise.
That's a long and exhausting list of bills. We urge you to contact your legislators about any of these bills that you feel strongly about, and we'll keep you posted on all of the legislation that still stands as it moves forward. Thanks to all for your help in our Olympia efforts!