Your Montana Trails Coalition and Montana Trails, Recreation and Parks Association keeps you informed and up-to-date about bills in the legislature that affect recreation and parks programs.
NOTE: HB 2 and HB 5 biennially include the large appropriations for state government operations and capital improvements. As in past years, both bills go through many changes before adoptions. Thus, both have and will continue to appear before free conference committees until final action in both chambers. Likely will not pass until waning hours of the last day of the session!
HB 2 (Representative Jones): This bill covers requested appropriations for operations for state government. Passed House. Passed Senate April 8 with amendments, House did not approve amendments so conference committee appointed and heard April 13. Senate Free Conference Committee hearing April 27. Includes Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) and State Parks. Included is the state Snowmobile Grant Program and equipment purchase. Includes $600,000 for the two year period for grooming equipment purchase and approximately $420,000 per year for grooming grants. These funds come from snowmobile registration fees and permits and some state gas tax funds.
HB 5 (Representative Jones): Includes requested appropriations for capital projects for state government including FWP and state parks. House and Senate Free Conference Committees appointed April 23. Included are:
Recreational Trails Program: $1.5 million/year; $3 million for biennium
Source: Federal gas tax paid for gas used off road in off-highway vehicles
Montana Trail Stewardship Grant Program: $1.25 million/year; $2.5 million biennium
Source: Optional $9 on light motor vehicle registrations
OHV Grant Programs: 2grants total $445,000 /year; $ 890,000 biennium
Source: OHV registration decal, permit fees &state gas tax
Land & Water Conservation Fund: $1.5 million/year; $3 million biennium
Source: Federal funds from Great American Outdoors Act!
HB 184 (Representative Loge): Would revise bicycle safety laws including the wearing of high visibility colors, ride on the right had half of the right lane, illuminated lamps, 5’ safe passing distance. Passed 3rd reading on House Floor February 4. Tabled in Senate Highways and Transportation Committee March 16.
HB 272 (Representative Stromswold): Would allow a person to register a vehicle for up to 5 years. Could have a negative impact on $9 optional fees collected for State Parks operation and maintenance, Trail Enhancement Grant Program, Fishing Access sites, and specialty license plates that partially fund non-profit organizations. Tabled in House Appropriations Committee March 25.
HB 281 (Representative Gunderson): Revise laws related to bicycles, especially E-bikes. Passed the House on a vote of 74 – 26. Indefinitely postponed on 2nd reading on the Senate floor March 18. Legislature web page says “probably dead”. Included the description of the three classes of electrically assisted bicycles, their use on bicycle and shared use paths, allowing state and local authorities to prohibit their use for safety reasons. Concerns included some preferred they be called electrically motor assisted bicycles and questions remained about their use on non-motorized trails in the backcountry and backcountry urban interface and inconsistency with federal agency definitions and processes.
HB 352 (Representative Hinkle): Would require public access as part of conservation easements that use public funds. Tabled February 23 in House Fish, Wildlife and Parks committee.
HB 420 (Representative Kerns): Would require Montana Department of Transportation to adopt administrative rules defining and specifying standards for designated bicycle lanes and routes. Tabled February 24 in House Transportation Committee.
HB 554 (Representative Kassmier): Would require legislative approval of national heritage areas and national historic trails in Montana. Passed House. Passed Senate April 13 and returned to House with amendments. House approved amendments on 2nd reading April 23. 3rd reading on House floor April 26. Issue: fear that through designation, private property rights would be negatively affected. Problem: includes National Historic Trails which by federal law does not take any state, local or private property rights when designated.
HB 632 (Garner): Federal Aid Stimulus Money: Analysts expect the state to see at least $2.7 billion to state and local governments on top of the $1,400 individual payments in relief money. Specifically it includes $298 million in budget relief to towns, cities and tribal governments. This will evolve on a daily basis and includes a commission to review projects after session adjournment. Stimulus funds could be used at the county/city levels for trails and recreation since they all have direct benefits to the physical and mental health of the public! Passed House April 1. Senate Free Conference Committee hearing April 28.
NOTE: Recreational Marijuana Sales Tax for Recreation and Conservation: Governor Gianforte recommended operating budget would divert all future revenue away from public trail grant programs, state parks maintenance, and the Habitat Montana Program. Initiative I 190, voted on and approved by the public in November would distribute the funds as follows: Habitat Montana: 37.125% (conservation easements, block management, fee title purchase, fishing access sites); State General Fund: 10.5%; Substance Abuse Services, Veterans Services, Senior & Disability Services, Local Governments: 10% each; State Parks, Trail Stewardship Grant Program, Nongame wildlife: 4.125 % each.
Team effort on Recreational Marijuana bills. The team is the same group of organizations and individuals that got SB 24 passed in the last session to better fund trails, state parks and fishing access sites! Some have raised question if we should be quiet since money is included in HB 701 for trails, state parks and watchable wildlife. We need to support the team and strongly recommend funding for Habitat Montana and removal of the cap on money for trails, state parks and watchable wildlife!
Two of the following four marijuana bills were tabled in committee. Whatever comes out of the Senate, the distribution of funds will go to a conference committee.
HB 670 (Skees): Recreational Marijuana Tax: 2/3 of tax to state employee’s pensions; 1/3 to trust fund for economic & social cost of marijuana. Passed House. Tabled April 19 in Senate Select Committee on Marijuana Law.
HB 683 (Mercer, Moore, Regier): Recreational Marijuana Tax: An act revising the distribution of recreational marijuana revenue for public pension payments and administrative costs; providing for specific distributions to various pension trust funds. Passed House. Tabled April 12 in Senate Select Committee on Marijuana Law.
HB 701 (Hopkins): Recreational Marijuana Tax: Would allocate the first $6 million to a drug and addiction treatment program (Heart Fund). Among others, includes $650,000 in first year each to state parks, state trails grant program, and non-game wildlife, and 4% per year to each thereafter. Currently (April 24) includes $5.4 million for Habitat Montana but not until fiscal year 2024. Passed House. Passed Senate with amendments April 23. Back to the House.
HB 707 (Tschida, Blasdel, Binkley, Noland, Phalen): Recreational Marijuana Tax: Provides that taxation occurs at the wholesale level; requiring separation between the manufacture, wholesale, and retail sale of marijuana; creating marijuana wholesale licenses. Passed House. Tabled April 13 in Senate Select Committee on Marijuana Law.
HJ 15 (Representative Marler): Joint resolution that the Montana Legislature proclaims the recognition of the 1,000 mile Montana Trail 406 using existing trails and its positive impacts on local economies and recognize benefits of connected trail networks across Montana. Passed House but indefinitely postponed on Senate Floor April 1.
HJ 42 (France): Requests an interim study to evaluate Montana’s policies to promote bicycle tourism, and evaluate the potential for established paved bicycle routes in Montana. Passed House Transportation Committee April 21. 2nd reading on House floor April 26.
SB 38 (Senator Gauthier): Would revise the Summer Motorized Grant Program to allow safety and ethics education grants, rename the snowmobile trail pass to the winter trail pass and include dog sleds. Passed Senate February 1. Passed the Senate and the House. Signed by the Governor April 8!
SB 115 (Representative Regier): Would clarify the approval process for land-acquisitions by the department of fish, wildlife, and parks; requiring certain easements to be approved by the board of land commissioners. Passed Senate and House. Signed by the Governor April 8.
SJ 5 (Senator Webber): Joint resolution urging the National Park Service to include Sacagawea on signs for the Lewis & Clark Trail. Passed Senate. Passed 3rd reading on House floor April 12 and on its way to the Governor.
HB 2 and HB 5: See comments under Recreation.
HB 102 (Representative Berglee): Would revise current gun laws and concealed carry locations. Some parks and recreation districts/agencies/communities/universities currently have special ordinances/rules that control the carry of firearms. This bill will eliminate most of those. Passed House January 14, passed Senate February 5. Signed by Governor February 18.
HB 410 (Representative Olsen): Would require noxious weed management programs for certain state lands to seed or plant native plants friendly to animal pollinators. Tabled in House Agriculture Committee March 30.
SB 77 (Senator McGilvray): Would revise special districts finance including parks and trail districts, transportation districts, safety districts to make it easier for a district to be dissolved but creating problems for long term funding, assessments, bonding. Tabled in Senate Taxation Committee February 12.
SB 153 (Senator Welborn): Vastly amended. Amendment eliminated the transfer of administration of fishing access sites and administration of recreational and commercial use of wildlife management areas to the state parks and recreation board. Would require two state parks and recreation board members to be business owners and would require the purchase of a wildlife conservation license for use of FWP terrestrial sites except state parks. The fee would be reduced from the current $8 to $6. Passed Senate. Tabled April 13 in House Fish, Wildlife & Parks Committee, taken from table and approved by committee April 15. 2nd reading on House floor April 22 not concurred.
SR 60: Confirm the Governor’s new appointees to the Board of Parks and Recreation including Jody Loomis, Russ Kipp, Kathy McLane. Current Members: Scott Brown, Mary Moe, Jody Loomis, Russ Kipp, Kathy McLane.
OTHER IMPORTANT BILLS (Related to recreation and parks)
SB 354 (Hinebauch) Prescriptive Easements. Passed the Senate and passed the House with amendments. Senate Free Conference Committee Hearing April 26. Committee includes Senators Hinebauch (Chair), Fitzpatrick, McClafferty. House amendments attempt to get rid of prescriptive easements that lead to public land. It could damage our rights to stream access, our ability to utilize prescriptive easements to public lands and waters. It appears to apply to all prescriptive easements in the state, not just those obtained for public access, and brings a host of potential legal issues. It looks like it will undo all the historic record we have and case law of prescriptive easements and is an attempt to impair the public’s right to access public lands. I hear that there are thousands of prescriptive easements that exist in the state, both in written and unwritten form.
HB 677 (Bartel): Prohibits certain nonprofit corporations from purchasing agricultural lands. Tabled April 1 in House Agriculture Committee! Said that nonprofit corporations may not purchase agricultural land in parcels larger than 80 acres. Land trust, public lands and conservation organizations would be subject to the new law. Opponents voiced concerns about invasion of private property rights by telling private land owners who they can and can’t sell to and some suggest it is unconstitutional.
HB 695 (Loge): Would generally revise environmental laws allowing the collection of fees for public comment on environmental impact statements. Passed House April 8 but vastly amended eliminating fees for public comment and only leaving language allowing arbitration for public water supply disputes. Passed Senate Natural Resources Committee April 23.
Interested in the latest on important legislation impacting parks, trails and recreation access? Tune in to hear the latest legislative updates and in-depth analysis about the outdoor recreation issues you care about! Join Diane Conradi and Bob Walker on Facebook Live at the Montana Access Project page at: https://www.facebook.com/MTAccess . Last Facebook report Thursday, April 29 at 11AM.