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Off-road to Ruin

Arizona Capitol Times, June 24, 2008

Legislature approves off-road vehicle fees
By Luige del Puerto

The Arizona Legislature passed a proposal on June 23 to charge an annual fee for off-highway vehicles and to use the money to manage trails, mitigate damage on land and educate riders about trail preservation.

It was a victory for conservation groups, off-road groups and all-terrain vehicle dealers who have coalesced to address what they see as an ever-increasing use of land for off-highway vehicle use, which leads to unintended trails that direct water away from natural watersheds, destroy plant life and contribute to particulate pollution.

Under the measure, owners of off-road vehicles would pay for an annual registration fee of about $20.
Critics described the legislation as a tax increase.

One lawmaker said the original bill already failed in committee, and for it to come back as a strike-everything amendment is a "perversion of our system."

"I am just appalled that we would have a bill that has not passed committee yet gets here on the floor and we are voting on it today," said Sen. Chuck Gray, a Republican from Mesa.

The bill's passage was unexpected, and it traveled a circuitous road to approval. The bill (S1167) was not calendared for a vote, but a rarely used procedural maneuver allowed the bill to be brought to the floor for a final reading.

The maneuver came from Sen. Linda Gray of Glendale, sponsor of the bill that now carries language establishing regulations for operating off-road vehicles. The original measure (H2573) failed in a Senate committee last March. But the bill's backers managed to revive the legislation in the House by tacking its language to Gray's S1167.

"Yes, there will be a $20 fee," Gray said, "but we are also protecting the environment."

Because the House amended S1167, the Senate needs to concur with the changes or refuse them. If the Senate concurs, the bill can be brought up for a final reading. The measure, however, languished in the Senate GOP caucus after the House passed it on April 3.
Some background: It is a long-held custom in the Senate for every bill returning from the state House to pass through a caucus before it is moved to the floor for deliberation and a vote. Also, it is the Senate president who schedules bills for a vote.

On June 23, Gray made a motion to concur with the changes made to her bill and to vote immediately on the measure. Lawmakers agreed to her motion, and passed the bill by a vote of 16-7, just enough to get it through.

The motion, in effect, bypassed the caucus' custom. Gray's move may have opened a new realm of possibility for legislation bogged down in similar circumstances as S1167.

Rep. Jerry Weiers of Glendale introduced the original off-highway vehicle bill (H2573), but it failed in the Senate Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee in March. A similar measure also failed last year.

Efforts to get the legislation through this year were initially stymied by critics, chief among them Sen. Ron Gould of Lake Havasu. Critics argued that the legislation is a new fee and is therefore a tax increase, which they say goes against the grain of Republican values.
Gould had refused to hear Weiers' bill in the Senate Transportation Committee, which Gould chairs. That meant double defeat for H2573 - its failure in the Natural Resources Committee and the inability to get hearing for it in other committees.

But Gray saved the legislation by allowing it to be attached to S1167 in the House, a move that had to be timed carefully. That day, Gould was absent on the floor. Gray jumped on the opportunity and successfully moved to pass the measure.

Ironically, Gould just last week discussed the idea of making a concur-refuse motion on the floor to bypass caucus and pass SCR1042, a ballot proposal to amend the state Constitution to say only a union between a man and a woman is valid.

Senate President Tim Bee has not yet calendared the measure, which also contains a strike-everything amendment, for a final reading. He said it always has been the procedure of leadership to deal with ballot measures after a budget has been passed.

Photo © Paul S. Hamilton