FROM THE CAPITOL: SNOWMOBILE-RELATED LEGISLATION BY DOUG FRANZEN T he 2013 session of the Minnesota Legislature adopted farreaching social and fiscal policy changes. The legislature legalized same-sex marriage, raised taxes by more than $2 billion, thereby increasing spending while structurally balancing the budget, authorized collective bargaining for day care providers, created a health insurance exchange (ironically named the Minnesota Insurance Marketplace), and placed restrictions on the private sector health insurance market. Clearly, these new initiatives were possible because the DFL was the majority party in both the House and the Senate as well as the Governor’s office for the first time in a generation. Snowmobile funding was set for the next two years at the amount of $8.424 million per year. This funding is level with the past two years (excepting the shortfall that resulted in the cancelling of the final grant-in-aid payment this year). Throughout the session, there were efforts by the legislature to increase the gas tax. Such an increase would have resulted in a proportionate increase in our funding. Unfortunately, Governor Mark Dayton opposed this tax increase and the proposal died. Our ability to continue to snowmobile on large tracts of private land in northern Minnesota was preserved by changes to the Sustainable Forest Incentive Act that, among other things, guaranteed the right of motorized recreation in exchange for preferential tax treatment for the owners. These changes were in response to the threats of Molpus Timberland Investments to close hundreds of acres to recreational uses. MnUSA worked with the Minnesota Forest Industries to preserve our access to this land. Last year, the legislature enacted MnUSA’s proposal to merge the snowmobile registration fee and the trail pass for resident snowmobilers. As a result, additional funds were dedicated to our account. However, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk was upset at the deletion of the so-called “ice-fisherman exception” for a limited use registration. Accordingly, the Senate adopted DNR-drafted language reinstating this smaller limited registration fee. MnUSA opposed this change because of the great potential for fraud and problems with enforcement. The House supported the MnUSA position. Unfortunately, the conference committee largely adopted the Senate language. Accordingly, under the bill signed by the Governor, the following subdivision will be added to Minn. Stats. 84.82: Subd. 2a. Nontrail use registration. A snowmobile may be registered for nontrail use. A snowmobile registered under this subdivision may not be operated on a state or grant-in-aid snowmobile trail. The fee for a nontrail use registration is $45 for three years. A nontrail use registration is not transferable. In addition to other penalties prescribed by law, the penalty for violation of this subdivision is immediate revocation of the nontrail use registration. The commissioner shall ensure that the registration sticker provided for limited nontrail use is of a different color and is distinguishable from other snowmobile registration and state trail stickers provided. With the shortage in the dedicated account this season that created a 10 percent loss to the grooming clubs, MnUSA will be working with the DNR to mitigate the loss of registration fees due to this change. MnUSA-supported legislation was introduced and passed through committee to prohibit tampering of odometers on recreational vehicles. I, and several club members, testified in support of this legislation. The bill did not pass but remains alive for consideration when the legislature reconvenes in February 2014. Thanks to the MnUSA members who testified on behalf of this bill. In light of its overall support, we believe that the bill will, in fact, be enacted into law next year. MnUSA was part of a large coalition of recreationalists, health clubs and resorts that successfully worked to modify a trial lawyer bill prohibiting waivers of liability. We saw great risk to snowmobiling if the bill were to be passed as introduced. As a result of the coalition’s lobbying pressure, the bill was modified to address our concerns. Overall, we did O.K. this year, but not as well as we should. In part, this was due to the unique circumstances of the personalities involved with our issues. Nonetheless, we have significant work before us as 2014 will be an election year with the Governor and the Senate being up for election. It is more critical than ever that we be positioned as a significant voice in the political process. The people who achieved big victories this year were the folks who got out, worked hard and elected their candidates in the last election. Hopefully, we will follow their example this fall. Doug Franzen is a lobbiest, hired by MnUSA, as a watchdog and an advocate for snowmobilers’ issues at the Minnesota State Capitol. 14 Minnesota Snowmobiling