Feature photo of Keilah Spriggs, Darel Spriggs, Hope Spriggs, and Scott Cameron. Photos by August Schield.

Hearing Set for Feb. 19 at Montana State Capitol

We at Prairie Populist watched Keilah Spriggs, age 2, fall in love with Painted Rocks State Parks last summer.  Keilah’s parents grew up coming to the State Park, riding dirt bikes and hanging out with friends.

Keilah Spriggs learning how to fish with her mom, Hope. Photo by August Schield.

“It has a homey feeling to me. It has a place in my heart,” Darel Spriggs, Keilah’s father, told us last June.

Senator Terry Guthier sponsored Senate Bill 24 for kids like Keilah. The bill increases the optional light motor vehicle fee from $6 to $9 per registered vehicle. If passed, the fee would pump an additional $2 million into the parks division’s budget per year and help pay for not only our parks, but also fishing access sites and create a new grant program for trails.

“As a kid, I went to the parks with my parents. It was something that we did all the time,” Senator Gauthier said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Now my kids are using the parks. Your kids are probably using the parks. And now my grandbabies are using the parks.”

The bill almost did not make it to the floor. The Senate Fish and Game Committee tabled the bill last week, claiming it was unclear the fee is optional.

When any Montanan registers a light motor vehicle, he or she has the option of paying the fee that benefits the parks. If someone feel that their own usage of parks is unworthy of a small fee, they always have the option to opt out.

If some Montanans see the fee an unworthy price to pay, it seems as if the topic would have come up in the last 16 years — that is how long the $6 opt-out fee has been in effect.

Senator Gauthier told us that, typically, following the traditional pattern of bills passing out of committee is good, he is respectful of the checks and balances in place. However, funding parks is important enough for him that if it were to die, he wanted the full Senate body to at least hear it first. Thus, he blasted it out of committee and so the bill would be heard by all of the Senate.

On Tuesday, the full Senate body voted in favor of SB 24, with 31 in favor and 19 against. It seems as if Montana’s senators understand that funding parks will benefit all Montanans.

Keilah enjoying Painted Rocks State Park. Photo by August Schield.

The bill is assigned to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee because it also creates a grant program to assist in maintaining Montana’s trails, one our greatest assets. Therefore, the bill requests $60,000 in general fund dollars to pay for administration of the new grant program. The salary proposal includes benefits, as well. The hearing will be held on the 19th, when the committee will only consider the inclusion of the $60,000 request.

We at Prairie Populist maintain that SB-24 i a worthy investment. There has been a 33 percent increase in state park visitation since 2012, and with that increase in park visitation comes an increase in tourism dollars going to Montana businesses. Restaurants, hotels, and downtown businesses all benefit through a trickle-down effect as our state parks attract more visitors. When our businesses benefit, they pay their taxes into the general fund, adding to the fund from which the $60,000 is drawn.

Now, we need to wait to see if the the Senate Finance and Claims Committee concludes that the benefits that come with SB-24 are worth $60,000 in general fund dollars.

We’re hopeful that they’ll see what the majority of our senators see, and keep this bill moving forward so kids like Keilah can continue to fall in love with our state.

-Andie Creel 

For our full story about Painted Rocks State Park, where we met Keilah, click here.

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