Lame Duck Session: MSA Promises Vigilance During Final Days of Legislature

November 2018-At our state legislative level right now is the scariest time for all groups that are active in changing laws to better their programs. After the election and with the holidays there are only about 13 real session days left of the 2018 Michigan Legislature.

As some legislators are termed out, and some have  just lost in the election, they sometimes  move to create a legacy for themselves! Legislation is introduced and hurried through. Laws are changed with the intention of doing a service to Michigan residents, but because the 2017-18 legislative session is about to close, things get changed without a lot of research, discussion, and thought. The legislation may be to help an area, a program, a group — but without proper time and discussion things getting added and changed. The end result is sometimes bad for everyone.

A Few Examples…

One example of such rushed legislation is House Bill 6124. This is a new law to force  everyone who uses a trail parking area to purchase a state Recreation Passport! We saw a very similar  proposal in the form of lame duck legislation, three years ago!

So you may be asking what’s wrong with that? Well let’s think about this. Snowmobilers pay to install a staging area,  that connects to the snowmobile trail; they often do the work necessary for this installation; pay for the porta john; and pay to plow and maintain it all winter. We purchase trail permits and trail permit dollars, through the Snowmobile Trail Improvement Fund, pay for these staging areas.  We are the only user of those trail parking areas, who pays that fee.

The legislation would force us to purchase a  Recreation Passport with our license plate! We realized most of you probably have your Recreation Passport for your vehicles because you use our State Parks all year long.  However, we find it out of the question to force snowmobilers to  park their rigs in these area. We are watching that bill closely, and are doing what we can to make sure it doesn’t get approved during this lame duck session.

Another jewel piece of legislation was introduced in September. Under House Bill 6362, most of the tickets issued by  snowmobile law enforcement would be changed from misdemeanors to civil infractions.

Again, MSA doesn’t disagree with this change. However, the legislator who introduced the law never contacted MSA about it. MSA does disagree with the part that lowers and eliminates fines for those infractions. We believe lower fines mean that people will most likely ignore the law with no consequences.

The bill also includes changes to other outdoor recreation activities violations, and fines. Those groups were not contacted. It includes hunting, fishing, wildlife, watercraft, ORV, snowmobile and some wild animal tickets. Again we will contact this state representative to discuss everything that pertains to snowmobiling. I know for a fact that the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) has opposed the bill as written, also because it reduces the fines that go with the infractions.

MSA and our advocate will be watching this lame duck session very carefully.  Also rest assured, your MSA officers are preparing to meet with all of the new 2019 legislators to let them know we are here as well as what we want!

We would also like to acknowledge our lobbyist, Noel LaPorte, for his continued efforts with MSA. For the past 25 years, LaPorte has worked with and for us in the state legislature. He is known as the “snowmobile” guy, and continuously tells us that the grass-root support that MSA receives from its membership is second to none in the state. LaPorte is a snowmobiler and believes in the work MSA does on behalf  of organized snowmobiling.

2019 Legislative Issues

The following is a list of legislative issues your MSA and advocate will be looking at during the next legislative session. We need to find sponsors for these issues in order for them to move forward within our legislature.

  • Establish into law the Snowmobile Advisory Workgroup (SAW), a subcommittee of the Michigan Trails Advisory Committee.

As it stands today, the SAW Committee is not required by law. It could be abolished by our legislators at any time. We need permanence for this committee, which currently works with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to advise them on all things snowmobile. We have a good relationship with the DNR right now, and look to continue working together through the SAW Committee.

  • Firm up the definition of a snowmobile.

With all of the aftermarket add-ons to ATVs, motorcycles, and 4X4 trucks, we need to restrict the width of vehicles and give law enforcement the tools to keep our trails safe.

  • Restrict wheeled vehicles from the “Marked Groomed Snowmobile” Trails between Dec. 1 through March 31.

Again, for our safety and the safety of others, we need to restrict these types of vehicles on our trails during the season. We also need this to prevent damage to the groomed surface during this time period. These trails are being paid for through the snowmobile program — your money!

We are being told that the number of snow bikes being sold is increasing, and we want to make sure the snowmobile law spells out what is allowed on a “marked groomed snowmobile” trail.

  •     Update stationary sound test number.

The manufactures and the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) have updated the sound test to include 4-stroke snowmobiles. The snowmobile law has to be changed to include this, so law enforcement can enforce it out on our trails. One of the two reasons we lose a trail is loud notice. (For your information, the other reason is trespassing.)

  •     Increase the amount of the fine for no trail permit.

MSA feels very strongly that the fine for not displaying a trail permit should be increased.  We feel that the fine should be a multiple of the cost of the permit at the time; example three times the current $48. We also think that the violator should be forced to then purchase a trail permit.

  • Look at fines in all of the snowmobile act as well as  what sections are “misdemeanors” and what are. “civil infractions.”

As discussed earlier, we do see reasoning behind making some of the violation sections civil infractions, and are willing to work with our legislators on this. As for as fines go, MSA is opposed to lowering any of the fines, which makes it easier for violators to break the law on our trails. In fact, we believe some of the fines should be increased, as a deterrent to violators.

  •            Updating section with regard to rental operations  — dealers; duties; and liability insurance.
  •             Look at Historic Snowmobile section

We are looking to fix the date to be stationary one. We want to make a change in the  “Definitions” section. We are looking to change it  from 25 years old to manufactured before 1993.

  • Look at formula of how law enforcement funds are spent. County enforcement versus Department of Natural Resources (DNR) enforcement.
  • Discuss Permit Costs

This is an ongoing issue. MSA will continue to look at and evaluate what we need to maintain and grow our first-class snowmobile program.

Look to future issues of the Michigan Snowmobile News to see if progress is made on any of these legislative issues.