9 to 15 Passenger Van and Motorcoach Legislation
With Congress mired down in debate of the debit limit ceiling and deficit reduction, legislation that could result in greater regulation of 9 to 15 passenger vans has been on hold. S. 435 introduced by Senator Sherrod Brown (D-IL) and co-sponsored by Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), among others, was marked-up (approved) in May by the Senate Transportation Committee. The bill has not moved since but is expected to pass at some point in this Congress which will last through 2012. It does include a provision that would require “all or certain classes of drivers” to have a CDL in order to operate 9 to 15 passenger vans in interstate commerce. This language may be subject to modification before it goes to the Senate floor.
On the House side, the companion to S. 435 introduced by Representative Lewis (D-GA) is not expected to move. Instead Representative Shuster’s bill, HR 1390, the Bus Uniform Standards and Enhanced Safety Act of 2011, is likely to move at some point in the House. While it does not call for CDL’s for 9 to 15 passenger vans, portions of the bill appear to call for improved safety tracking of operators and inspection programs for all commercial motor vehicles carrying passengers. DOT would establish “strike forces targeting owners or operators of commercial motor vehicles designed or used to transport passengers, when and where the Secretary considers appropriate.”
AOA is fully engaged in this process and will closely monitor these bills to prevent unnecessary CDL requirements for outfitters transporting customers for indirect compensation.
Deficit and Debt Reduction and Proposed Fee Increases
The standing committees in the House and Senate will make recommendations to the so-called “Super Committee” on revenue enhancement and debt reduction measures by October 14th. AOA is actively working against more fee increases for already stressed outfitters operating on federal lands. Fee increases do not offset costs for taxpayers, but generally fund increased regulation with a few facilities improvements here and there. Both the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act and the NPS Concessions Reform legislation resulted in significant fee increases, so we’ve done our part. Now is not the time to be adding fees to already stressed small businesses. Nonetheless, fee increases may be considered by those who have forgotten about the previous measures.
Forest Service Permit Liability Language
Those of you who have followed our work on permit language know we have encouraged outfitters to protest a couple of clauses in the permit. The health and safety clause in the standard outfitter and guide permit, III. G., requires outfitters to abate any activity that could pose a hazard to the public or outfitter employees. This language cannot be complied with since the Forest Service cannot guarantee that their resources are without hazard. We are working with the agency to modify this language and have made some progress. The permit language appears to be inconsistent with the Forest Service Manual which recognizes the inherent risk found in activities.
Tribal Sacred Sites and Places
Recently, the Forest Service issued a proposed policy on the protection of Tribal religious sites, ceremonies and cultural activities on National Forests. The policy expands a Clinton Administration definition of Sacred Sites to require the agency to consider "Sacred Places" in agency decisions. Sacred Places include landscapes, biological communities, bodies of water and other natural features. Tribes also want "co-management" authority for many forests. The policy proposes a variety of agreements to extend Tribes' influence over management decisions in National Forests. The Forest Service may temporarily close national forests for Tribal religious ceremonies or rule religious sites off limits altogether. Tribes may have a greater role in the issuance of outfitter and guide permits. AOA is working on comments and will push for a rewrite of the existing policy using an open process that includes broader participation than the listening sessions the Forest Service conducted exclusively with Tribes over the last year.
With so much deadfall from beetle kill and fire, trails are increasingly clogged and outfitters are bearing the burden, which is exceeding their resources. AOA is working to obtain a credit on outfitter fees for approved trail clearing required to open trails.
Legislation to Release Wilderness Study and Roadless Area Protections
The Wilderness and Roadless Release Act (H.R. 1581 and S. 1087) proposes to remove existing Wilderness Study Area and Roadless rule protections from 43 million acres of public lands in the West. The purpose of the bill is “ To release wilderness study areas administered by the Bureau of Land Management that are not suitable for wilderness designation from continued management as de facto wilderness areas and to release inventoried roadless areas within the National Forest System that are not recommended for wilderness designation from the land use restrictions of the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Final Rule and the 2005 State Petitions for Inventoried Roadless Area Management Final Rule, and for other purposes.”
Although a companion bill has been introduced in the Senate, it is unlikely to pass in this session of Congress. The released wilderness study areas would still be subject to management plans. They may not be immediately open for energy development, but the fear is that would occur in some areas at some point. While some form of energy development is important to many, not every landscape should be taken over for oil and gas production especially those that generate significant tourism revenues. Many outfitters and hunting and fishing groups have legitimate concerns about the fate of these lands. That being said, the fate of the industry is also in the balance during the deficit and debt reduction debate. Some of the sponsors of this legislation will also be recommending revenue enhancement measures to the Super Committee. Therefore, if you write Congress about H.R. 1581, please be respectful. Letters suggesting that the sponsors are extreme or extremist could come back to haunt you. As the late Congressman Mo Udall once said, you stand a much better chance of getting what you want from a member of Congress if you spend 2/3rds of your time thanking and 1/3 of your time asking.
To see who is sponsoring H.R. 1581 go to http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h112-1581
NPS Intermountain Region Hires New Chief of Concessions
Jennifer Bonnett has been selected as the new chief of concessions for the Intermountain Region (IMR). Her career in hospitality and business as a chef, owner of a catering business, kitchen designer and food-and-beverage director of a hotel give her significant insight into working with National Park Service concessioners and satisfying customer needs.
Bonnett, who also has served the IMR as a concessions management specialist and as acting chief of concessions, will guide and assist the largest concessions program in the NPS. The IMR now manages 211 concession contracts that gross approximately $500 million annually.
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