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Friday, April 18, 2014

Kansas Senate rejects parks bill that would have cut senior discounts

By Dion Lefler
The Wichita Eagle

— The Senate has rejected a bill that would have allowed people to buy yearly state park passes with their vehicle registration, but would have also eliminated half-off discounts for seniors and the disabled.

By a vote of 23-13, senators voted down House Bill 2729, which supporters said would have made it easier for people to buy park passes and would have increased revenue for the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism.

The sticking point was a section of the bill that would have revoked the discounts now enjoyed by residents 65 and older and people with disabilities.

Under the bill, Kansas motorists would have been able to buy a park pass for $15.50 when they renewed their car license plates.

That’s less than the current costs of $24.70 for permits bought in the peak season of April through September and $19.70 for permits purchased in October through March, said Sen. Pete Brungardt, R-Salina, who carried the bill on the floor.

Brungardt said that making it more convenient to buy a park pass had proven itself in the states on Lake Michigan, where more people bought permits and state revenue went up when the permits were offered in conjunction with car registration.

While the cost of a yearly park permit would have dropped for most, the cost for senior and disabled Kansans would have risen by about $3 to $5.

That was too much for the majority of senators, including Sens. Robert Olson, R-Olathe, and Dennis Pyle, R-Hiawatha.

Olson said he thinks it’s a tough time for seniors, with rising prices and fixed incomes.

“Now, we’re going to stick them more to go to state parks,” he said.

Pyle said doing away with the park discount would send a message to the elderly that they should consider retiring to another state.

Brungardt and Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, both over 65, argued that most of the seniors using the parks are not as poor as opponents of the bill want people to believe.

Ostmeyer questioned why seniors with $100,000 recreational vehicles would need to worry about an extra $3 a year for a park permit. He said it’s not fair to younger park users.

“I’m 69 years old,” he said after the meeting. “Why should they have to pay higher fees so I can have a privilege?”

He said the parks are strapped for money and not fixing that could lead to closures, meaning nobody would get to use the parks.

Ostmeyer said Gov. Sam Brownback has proposed shifting some gambling income from economic development to wildlife and parks, but that hasn’t happened yet — and may not.

“They’ll start shutting gates and people will start hollering,” he said.

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