ESCANABA - Two years ago I fought against the method being used to increase the license fee on ATV/ORV machines in Michigan. The reason I did so was due to the composition and speed in which those in support were trying to get bills passed in the legislature.
In the first wave, there was a move to enroll ATV/ORV machines into the same format of registration that we have with snow mobiles. They would then also be required to purchase a trail permit and the end cost to the user was quite high. There was no immediate benefit to riders as the registration fee would have gone to the Michigan Secretary of State, and only the balance would go towards trail expansion, maintenance and repair.
There were three other bills attached to the first proposal and all were tie-barred which meant if one failed all would fail, and they did.
A similar package of four tie-barred bills has recently been introduced in the Michigan House and sponsored by U.P. Representative Matt Huuki. Huuki has been working in close concert with state Senator Tom Casperson who recently introduced a bill paralleling part of the latest group.
House Bills 5612, 5613, 5614 and 5615 are a start on revamping a lot of antiquated laws. More importantly, they will help rectify problematic situations that are hampering progress with the overall ATV/ORV program.
HB5612 will impact several units of government that include local municipalities and county boards, as well as the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and MDNR.
It will grant permission, by law, to local units of government to establish policy for use of local streets and roads for the purpose of access by ATV/ORV riders to obtain food, fuel and lodging. The other phase will grant authority to county boards to designate varying segments of Michigan highways for ATV/ORV riders to ride along and cross over certain bridges to inner-connect trails systems in the Upper Peninsula, a critical part of the 2008 Master Plan.
HB5613 deals with what has been known as licensure. Under the new law, the name will be changed to "trail permit". I don't see why it is so important to make a name change and remain concerned and hope that using the word trail will not impede on use of designated routes and/or public forest roads open for use that currently still require the annual sticker.
The bill also addresses the allocation (matrix) of funds from the sale of trail permits, in that fifty percent of the revenue will go to the MDNR for operations, (law) enforcement and special initiatives related to this part.
It should be noted that just over three percent currently goes for administrative expenses and has not met with objection by the various organized end users here in the U.P.
A big part of this bill is that organized rides that currently require a special permit and are charged a fee for the permit, will see the fee waived. Those wanting to occupy a trail with an event of not more than 75, will be required to notify the MDNR so that a conflict in time and/or date scheduled will not conflict with another similar event.
HB5614 is a request to allocate money collected and placed from the Michigan Recreational Fund into the ATV/ORV Fund. Current allocations show that 80% is earmarked for waterways projects and 14% goes to snow mobiles. To date ATV/ORV enthusiasts have not seen any money from this source. The bill calls for a ten percent allocation which will hopefully defray large annual permit increases for some time. That alone however will not meet the long term revenue needs of the program.
HB5615 deals mainly with indemnification of the designated trails and routes, those who control them and incidental involvement by property owners and/or industry. It also serves to standardize the safety training program and will expand the availability of curriculum to other varieties of ATV/ORV/OHV users.
Helmet use is also described in this bill and it should be noted that the change in the helmet law for motorcycle riding does not apply to ATV/ORV use. This version of the law specifies that helmets must be MDOT approved, continues to require eye protection except in those situations where the vehicle in use has a roll cage, windshield and individual seats with restraint belts manufactured with the machine.
The law will also add some teeth to penalties regarding helmet violations in that those found to be operating and ATV/ORV without wearing his/her helmet is responsible for a state civil infraction and shall be fined not less than $50.00 or more than $500.00 for each violation.
These collective pieces of legislation are a good start in revamping a lot of laws that exceed twenty years of existence. While some of the changes are still not perfect, the concept and intent behind them is positive for the sport and should be supported.
There is legislation being proposed that will specifically address the permit fee structure but it is not part of this package. It is also important to separate ATV/ORV riders who do not take their equipment off private property as they remain exempt from any fee for license or permit charged to those who do.
What is most important is that there is a narrow window of opportunity to get these bills passed in both houses and to the Governor for signature.
The State Senate and House will soon go on summer break. They will re-convene towards the fall but this is an election year and by then, the focus will be more on campaigning than revamping the current law.
It is important for everyone who uses the public trails, routes and lands open for riding, to contact your local legislator and offer support to these bills.
Tim Kobasic is the outdoors editor for KMB Broadcasting and host/producer for Tails & Trails Outdoor Radio, aired on six radio stations over three networks, Charter Communications cable and the Internet on Saturday mornings.