Recently, America Outdoors and 15 members went to Washington DC to advocate for four (4) specific issues that affect outfitters across the United States. These include: permitting legislation, the need for a Seasonal Recreation Establishment exemption via FLSA, Short Haul Exemption needed for outfitters driving 15 passenger vans across state lines and the overall impact of government shutdowns on our industry. We met with over 35 congressional offices and had five (5) agency appointments with various contacts in the BLM, USFS and NPS. It was a busy and successful week.
Over half of this year’s Camp Washington team attended a Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources meeting regarding access and permitting for outdoor recreation. AO remains optimistic that our presence at the hearing was positive. AO outfitters provided one of the panel members some talking points that resonated with Senator Murkowsky (R-AK). We are glad we have friends on the panel who helped bring to light the difficulties of managing federal permits for outfitters across the United States.
More Information on the Senate Committee Meeting.
We were greeted in Washington DC with optimism regarding outfitter issues by the new Congress for the 116th session. The Democrats have taken over the House of Representatives and many Committees have new leadership. We now believe we are in good shape to achieve results in this Congress, as the atmosphere is far more positive and supportive on both sides of the aisle than in years past. Recreation legislation is slated for introduction in the Senate this spring. AO is preparing an agenda for that bill and has great support for getting some issues across the goal line as a result.
1. pERMITTING lEGISLATION
One of the missions of Camp Washington was to get support for a successor to The GO Act. The GO Act reauthorized the permitting authority for outfitters in the Forest Service, the BLM and other land-managing agencies.
The most important action on a permitting bill is coming out of Senator Heinrich’s (D-NM) office. AO is working on this bill with the Coalition for Outdoor Access. Keep in mind, FLREA (the agencies’ permitting authority for outfitting) has to be renewed before expiring September 30, 2020. The bill has momentum and bipartisan support. We are excited about the collaborative spirit of the new bill and await another draft of the bill for review.
The ascendancy of Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) as the ranking minority member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee offers a new opportunity for AO issues to be presented before the committee. Senator Manchin has a long-standing positive relationship with outfitters in WV and we hope his leadership in the committee supports outfitter issues.
2. Seasonal Recreational Establishment Exemption
Restoring and expanding the seasonal recreational establishment exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act for outfitters with traveling camps, as well as for those with federal permits, has been a top priority for AO since the higher minimum wage for federal contractors was implemented as part of E.O. 13658. That E.O. was rescinded by President Trump last year. The need to restore the Seasonal Recreational Establishment exemption is still important, especially for multi-day trips.
One of the greatest benefits of this exemption to the entire industry is if the seasonal recreation establishment exemption is restored for outfitters at the federal level, many states will adopt it where they have their own minimum wage statutes that exceed the federal standards.
AO used Camp Washington to re-evaluate the prospects for continuing the push for this effort in the new Congress. After Camp Washington, we are remarkably optimistic that the prospects may have improved a bit in this Congress. More will come later as determine if we can get the key players in the House of Representatives to work with us on a realistic legislative strategy.
3. Short haul exemption from Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Operating Authority for 9 to 15 Passenger Vans
AO has worked for years to get a short-haul exemption from the FMCSA operating authority for outfitters crossing state lines for distances of 150 nautical miles from their base of operation. Rivers and mountains offer great natural borders and many outfitters cross a river or mountain (and subsequently state lines) to operate. This exemption would cover most shuttles on border rivers and airport pickups for guest ranches, for example, where 9 to 15 passenger vans are used.
We are proposing the exemption for vehicles under 26,000 pounds gross weight, which is within the weight of the new, larger 15-passenger van. Congressman De Fazio (D-OR) is chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Senator Capito (D-WV) chairs the Senate Transportation Subcommittee that will rewrite a new highway bill next year, the perfect vehicle for this exemption. While we have work to do, both offices indicated a willingness to look at this issue. This issue affects members from coast to coast. If you are impacted by this, please reach out to AO.
4. Government Shutdown
It is clear that the government shutdown diminishes demand for outfitter services since the public is reluctant to book trips if their access is uncertain. Even outfitters whose season is several months away indicated their phones go silent during a government shutdown, and it's hard to catch-up after an extended shutdown. Outfitters attending Camp Washington made these points in every office during their efforts in DC. While we know that future shutdowns may occur, we believe it is important to inform our representatives that small businesses operating on public lands are not well-served by a shutdown.
Thank you for your ongoing support.
In the coming months you will hear about more Washington DC visits, as we intend to keep a higher level of presence and pressure in the capitol. Please consider donating to the advocacy efforts when you make your renewals for 2019 to allow us to continue these efforts on behalf of the outfitter community.