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4/11/2021 Legislature Report – Parks & Recreation

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: SB means Senate bill, HB means House of Representatives bill, LC means a bill draft request has been submitted to Legislative Services.


HB 2 (Representative Jones): This bill covers requested appropriations for operations for state government.   Passed House.  Passed Senate April 8 with amendments and returned to House.  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.  Passed House March 29.  Hearing April 9 in Senate Finance and Claims Committee.  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 Natural Resources Committee March 24.  Scheduled for 2nd reading on Senate Floor April 12.  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 state level or 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.  Heard in Senate Finance and Claims Committee April 7.

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.

Please contact Senators and Governor Gianforte and ask them to accept the will of the public and dedicate 49.5% of the I-190 funds to recreation, parks, conservation, and Habitat Montana!

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.  Hearing April 12 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. Hearing 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, 88% of the balance to the state general fund, and 4% each to state parks, state trails grant program and non-game wildlife.  The 4.125% each would be capped at $650,000 each.  Unfortunately habitat Montana program are not included.  Passed House.  Assigned to Senate Select Committee on Marijuana Law.

HB 707 (Tschida, Blasdel, Binkley, Noland, Phalen): Recreational Marijuana Tax: Provides that taxation occurs at the wholesale level; 6 requiring separation between the manufacture, wholesale, and retail sale of 7 marijuana; creating marijuana wholesale licenses.  Passed House.  Assigned to Senate Select Committee on Marijuana Law.

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.

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.  (Unfortunate comments on Senate floor about hikers and bicyclists not spending money so little economic impact, complaints from locals about the Pacific Northwest Trail, and suggestion that designation would cause too many signs and Montanans don’t need them.  Ugh!)

SJ 5 (Senator Webber): Joint resolution urging the National Park Service to include Sacagawea on signs for the Lewis & Clark Trail.  Passed Senate.  Scheduled for 3rd reading on House floor April 12.


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 certain land use.  Passed third reading in Senate March 25 and transmitted to House.

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 15.  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 3rd reading in the House April 8 but vastly amended eliminating fees for public comment and only leaving language allowing arbitration for public water supply disputes.

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: Thursday, April 1, 15, and 29 at 11AM.

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