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P&R 2021 Final Legislative Report

6/2/2021 Final Legislative Report – Parks & Recreation


The 67th session of the Montana Legislature adjourned April 29.  We delayed this Final Report until final action by the Governor’s office on bills that passed.  I must also admit that I took a two-week vacation after the session to regroup, spend time with family, and enjoy life!
Please find below our Final report for the 2021 legislative session.  We did experience some major accomplishments in funding for recreation and state parks.  As is usually the case, we also saw some disappointing results.  Please keep up your positive efforts for Montanans and our visitors and hope to see you on the trails or in our parks and recreation areas on state, city, county, reservations, and federal lands.
Happy Trails!
Bob Walker for
Montana Trails Coalition and
Montana Trails, Recreation and Parks Association


Your Montana Trails Coalition and Montana Trails, Recreation and Parks Association tracked recreation and parks bills and attempted to keep you informed of their progress during the 67th session of the Montana Legislature.  We delayed this final report until Governor Gianforte acted on those bills since he had the choice to sign, veto, or not sign bills.  Better to wait for the final decision than to provide misinformation!

Recreation and Parks Funding

HB 2: Appropriations for operations for state government.  Signed by the Governor May 20.  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: Appropriations for capital projects for state government including FWP and state parks.  Signed by the Governor May 12.

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!

*See final page for state parks capital projects.

HB 632: Federal Aid Stimulus Money: Signed by the Governor April 30.  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 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.  Contact your municipal and county jurisdictions!

HB 701: Recreational Marijuana Tax.  Signed by the Governor on May 18.  This is exciting since it included $406,666 of new funds in FY 22 for each of state parks and trail stewardship grant program and $2.04 million to Habitat Montana.  By FY 2025, the fiscal note estimates $2.05 million to both the Trails Stewardship Grant Program and to state parks.  If we add that to the current income from motor vehicle registrations, since 2019 we could see an increase of approximately $3.3 million of new money in the trail stewardship grant program and the state parks program by Fiscal Year 2025!

SB 38: Summer Motorized Grant Program.  Signed by the Governor April 8.  Amends original law to allow safety and ethics education grants, renames the snowmobile trail pass to the winter trail pass, and includes dog sleds.

Recreation and Parks Bills that Passed the Legislature

HB 102: Revises current gun laws and concealed carry locations.  Signed by Governor February 18.  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.  Currently lawsuits challenge portions of this bill.

HB 554: Requires legislative approval prior to a congressional act on national heritage areas and national historic trails in Montana that extend beyond federal lands.  Signed by Governor May 14.  Problem: includes National Historic Trails which by federal law do not take any state, local or private property rights when designated and will add much time to achieve designation.

SB 115: 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.  Signed by the Governor April 8.

SJ 5: Joint resolution urging the National Park Service to include Sacagawea on signs for the Lewis & Clark Trail.  Signed by the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate April 23.

SR 60: Confirmed 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.

Recreation and Parks Bills that Failed

HB 184: 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.  Tabled in Senate Highways and Transportation Committee March 16.

HB 272: 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: Revise laws related to bicycles, especially E-bikes.  Indefinitely postponed on 2nd reading on the Senate floor March 18.  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.

HB 352: Would require public access as part of conservation easements that use public funds.  Tabled February 23 in House Fish, Wildlife and Parks committee.

HB 410: 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.

HB 420: 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.

HJ 15: 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.  Indefinitely postponed on Senate Floor April 1.

HJ 42: 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 April 26.  Failed to be heard in Senate committee.

SB 77: 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: 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.  2nd reading on House floor April 22 not concurred.

OTHER IMPORTANT BILLS (Related to recreation and parks)

SB 354: Prescriptive Easements.  Signed by the Governor May 10.  Revises laws related to land servitudes and easements; allows the owner of a servient tenement to mark the servitude boundaries with signage; provides that the extent of a servitude may not extend beyond those purposes provided for in writing.

HB 637: Outfitter Sponsored Licenses.  Signed by Governor May 14.  Was amended in the final days of the legislative session to include unlimited outfitter-sponsored nonresident big game licenses for this year and changes the preference point system.

HB 677: Would have prohibited certain nonprofit corporations from purchasing agricultural lands.  Tabled April 1 in House Agriculture Committee!

Some State Parks Capital Projects, HB 5

Smith River Corridor                              $    200,000

Yellow Bay State Park Site Upgrade        $ 1,200,000

Cedar Islands Infrastructure Upgrades    $    200,000

Hell Creek State Park                             $    400,000

Flathead Lake Recreation Access            $ 7,859,000

Lewis and Clark Caverns                        $    600,000

Lower Yellowstone Access                     $ 4,000,000

Milltown State Park                               $    250,000

Fort Owen State Park                            $    390,000

Parks Maintenance                               $ 2,500,000

Smith River Eden Site Improvement       $    600,000

Diversified Lodging                                $    500,000

Interpretation and Exhibit Upgrades      $    500,000

Find all legislative reports from Bob Walker and resources to get involved on our Legislative Updates page

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