Car registration fee for parks proposed

Nebraskans would no longer be required to purchase state park entry permits under a bill heard on general file April 10.

LB362, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Bill Avery, would eliminate the current park entry permit and instead place a $7 registration fee on motor vehicle registrations. The money generated from the new fee would be used to fund maintenance repairs and updates of state park facilities.

Avery said maintenance on basic infrastructure has pushed many state parks to the brink of closure.

“We’re talking about a state asset that’s enormously important to our economy,” he said. “If we don’t find a form of sustainable funding, they are going to fall into disrepair.”

Under the bill, open access to state parks would be available to all Nebraska residents. Nonresidents still would be required to purchase a park entry permit.

A pending Natural Resources Committee amendment would exempt certain vehicles from the fee, including school buses, farm trucks, soil and water conservation vehicles, government vehicles and those exempt from motor vehicle taxes.

Vehicles with certain license plates also would be exempted, including those with Pearl Harbor, Gold Star, Prisoner of War, Disabled Veteran, Purple Heart and historical antique or vintage plates.

O’Neill Sen. Tyson Larson spoke in favor of the bill, saying it is necessary to support Nebraska’s tourism industry.

“We have to be competitive with what other states are doing,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re not only attracting Nebraskans to our parks, but out of state guests as well.”

Fullerton Sen. Annette Dubas opposed the bill. She said Nebraska already has one of the highest average motor vehicle registration fees in the nation.

“I understand the need for sustainable financial resources for the Game and Parks Commission,” she said, as an example. “What happens when $7 is no longer enough? Where will we look for those dollars?”

Hoskins Sen. Dave Bloomfield also opposed the bill, saying the elimination of direct user fees is unfair.

“If you’re going through hard times, you can live without going to the park but most likely you can’t get by without a vehicle,” Bloomfield said.

No votes were taken on the bill before the Legislature adjourned for the day. Various amendments are pending.

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