Free park entry permit sought for disabled veterans

Certain disabled veterans could apply for a free lifetime state park entry permit under a bill heard Jan. 30 by the Natural Resources Committee.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist40' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Tim Gragert'>Sen. Tim Gragert</a>
Sen. Tim Gragert

LB770, introduced by Sen. Tim Gragert of Creighton, would require the state Game and Parks Commission to create and issue a free park entry permit for qualified disabled veterans in addition to the existing annual and temporary permits.

Of the 40 states that issue park permits, Gragert said, 19 offer free permits to disabled veterans.

To qualify, a veteran must be a Nebraska resident who has been honorably discharged and either rated by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as 50 percent or more disabled as a result of service in the U.S. military or receiving a pension from the department as a result of total and permanent disability that is not connected to military service.

The permits would be perpetual and would become void only if a veteran no longer meets the eligibility criteria.

LB770 would increase the maximum fee for a nonresident motor vehicle annual park entry permit from $45 to $65. It also would increase the maximum fee for a nonresident motor vehicle temporary park entry permit from $8 to $12.

Gragert said LB287, introduced by Sen. Dan Quick last session, would raise the maximum fee for a nonresident park entry permit from $45 to $55 to cover the cost of capital maintenance. He said the further increase proposed under LB770 would help cover the free permit’s cost.

“I believe the nonresident fee could be raised even further considering that the vast majority of visitors to Lake McConaughy are from Colorado, where the cost of a park permit is $80,” Gragert said.

Greg Holloway testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Nebraska Veterans Council, saying many veterans have expressed interest in a free entry permit. He said visiting the state’s parks can be therapeutic for veterans even if, like him, they no longer hunt or fish.

Timothy McCoy, deputy director of the state Game and Parks Commission, also testified in support. He said implementing LB770 would be straightforward because the commission already offers a free lifetime hunting and fishing permit to the same categories of disabled veterans.

Dan Wills testified in support of the bill on behalf of Disabled American Veterans.

“By doing something like this,” he said, “you’re giving opportunities to veterans [who] otherwise cannot afford to go to our state parks.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

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