January 11, 2012 | LXXI, No. 41

Discover Pass expansion gets senate committee nod

A pass for entry into state-owned lands, such as Steamboat Rock State Park, could be good in more than one car if a bill moving in the state Senate becomes law.

The Washington State Senate Energy, Natural Resources and Marine Waters Committee on Monday voted unanimously to refer to the Ways and Means Committee the bill that would make the Discover Pass transferable between two vehicles.

The Discover Pass was established by the Legislature and the creating bill signed by the governor during last year’s legislative session. It went into effect July 1, 2011.

The Discover Pass is required on vehicles to access state parks, heritage sites, wildlife and natural areas, and any recreation lands or water-access sites managed by Washington State Parks, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Under current law, the Discover Pass costs $30 annually and $10 for a daily pass, per vehicle.

The current fine for not displaying the pass on a vehicle while on state recreation land or a water-access site is $99.

Under the proposed legislation, the cost would remain the same, but the pass would be transferable between two vehicles at the same address.

According to Ilene Frisch, acting deputy director of Washington State Parks, the state parks projected revenue from the Discover Pass through the December 2011 was pegged at $15.6 million. The actual revenue realized for that period was $6.5 million.

Initial projections from the Discover Pass were based on a survey done by a policy research group from Washington State University. Once the Discover Pass was instituted, Washington State Parks employed the group again to determine why residents weren’t purchasing the pass.

“The number-one issue that came out of that survey was the transferability and that some people thought it was a better bargain if it was for two vehicles in their same home,” said Frisch.

If the legislation is approved, it will go into effect immediately.

However, revenue from the Discover Pass depends on when people purchase it, thus spreading income through the year. If the proposal passes the Legislature and the amending law is signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire, people who have recently purchased their annual Discover Pass would write in their second vehicle plate number on the pass, and wouldn’t have to purchase another one until the original expired. If people wait until the summer months to purchase a pass, the state parks system won’t see that revenue come in until the beginning the new biennium, which starts July 1.

“If they purchase it through their license renewal, some additional funding could start coming in. The sooner it passes, the better it is for us, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that a lot of money will come in right away,” said Frisch.

If the bill does pass, state parks could lose revenue if households that bought more than one Discover Pass revert to a single pass for two vehicles.

“The information that we have suggests that it’s more likely that we’ll earn additional money,” said Frisch. The new pass would have space for two vehicle license plate numbers, and the pass would only be valid for those two vehicles.

Discover Passes are available from recreation license vendors, by phone, when vehicle licenses are renewed, or at state parks. Locally, they are also sold at Coulee Playland.

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