Rep. Eric Anderson, R-Priest Lake, is proud of the program designed to help keep invasive species out of Idaho's lakes and water ways, but feels his legislation, House Bill 533, will help to expand the program by enabling more vendors to sell stickers and register boats.
In an address to lawmakers on the House floor Thursday, Anderson said that if the legislation is enacted, it would allow greater access to the program, as well as greater compliance among boaters. The fee hike proposed by Anderson would allow vendors to collect a processing fee for selling the sticker and registering boats.
The House passed the fee hike by a vote of 55-15. It now heads to the Senate.
Currently, in-state owners of motorized or sail-operated water vessels are required to purchase a sticker at a cost of $10, while out-of-state boaters pay $20. Citizens who own non-motorized vessels, such as canoes, kayaks, or large rafts, pay $5 for their stickers. With the potential changes to the program, the fee for in-state stickers for motorized boats would remain the same, while the charges assessed to out-of-state boaters and non-motorized boaters would increase by $2.
The invasive species program was implemented in 2009 in quick fashion prior to boating season. Because the state didn’t have ample time to work out agreements with vendors, many agreed to sell the stickers without reaping any benefits from doing so, said Dave Ricks, representing the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation at the committee hearing on the bill. Ricks said the process for selling the sticker can be time-consuming for vendors, who collect money as well as boat registration information at the time of the transaction. Once that is accomplished, vendors must turn all the funds and information over to the state, said Ricks.
Anderson said this move would allow the program to become more self-supporting. He noted that the state of Utah has a program similar to Idaho's, but has 24 more full-time employees doing the work done by one full-time employee in Idaho.
Rep. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, praised Anderson for his work with the program, but argued against the bill because he feels the Department of Recreation, which collects the fees for the program, and the Department of Agriculture, which aids in program enforcement, don't have an integrated plan for the future of the program.
"There's a lot of holes we have in our programs right now," said Hagedorn. He urged lawmakers to wait an additional year to pass comprehensive legislation that would develop a long-term plan for cooperation between agencies over program details.
"We don't have a year, ladies and gentleman," said Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover. Eskridge argued that the bill is necessary to keep Idaho's waterways clean and free of invasive species.
Rep. Steve Kren, R-Nampa, said the program had a rough start and needs more time for examination. He joined Hagedorn in complaining that the invasive species program does not have a comprehensive plan.
"We seem to be chasing our tail in a big rush here," said Kren. He expressed concern that law enforcement is frustrated with the program because there is no specific allocation for enforcement of the program and said that the Legislature would likely see another fee increase next year to pay for personnel to enforce it.
"This fee for boats is essential to the state of Idaho," said Rep. Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg. He said the state needs to compensate vendors for selling the stickers, which will enable the state to fund washing stations around the state. He said the bill is not simply a tax increase, but would help protect the waters by increasing the sales force.
Rep. Pat Takasugi, R-Wilder, said the bill and the program may have problems, but the state's economy would be threatened if the bill isn't passed to allow program expansion. He said the cost of not enacting the legislation would be too great because it could damage state waterways used for irrigation. He added that cities around the state could incur enormous costs if invasive species are allowed to enter into public water works.
"We're a crisis level," said Takasgui.