Tony Schoonen on H.B. 550: Dangerous Legislation

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H.B. 550 is getting the attention it deserves. Under the guise of a gas tax bill, H.B. 550 could help landowners remove evidence of public roads from county gas tax maps. This is evidence in the public record that PLWA has used in the past, along with other supporting evidence, to prove that an access is available for public use.

Tony Schoonen recently penned the following op-ed on this dangerous bill:

Thanks to the Montana Standard editorial by David McCumber on the serious dangers of House Bill 550, which he exposed. The bill was sponsored by Alan Redfield from Sweetgrass County. Very few people were able to comment on HB550 because it was heard at 8 a.m. on a Monday morning and dangerous road conditions existed. It sailed through the House on a straight party-line vote of 58 to 42, and the same is expected in the Senate.

The vast majority of the public doesn’t understand that this bill may seriously affect public access to public lands and trails. Under this bill, people using non-dedicated roads throughout Montana would need adjacent landowner permission first, purportedly making them private roads. There are hundreds of miles of these roads throughout the state. County governments have been collecting gas taxes on these roads for decades because all the public, including landowners, are using them and they are essential in our everyday lives.

Counties refer to these roads as “gas tax routes” and receive money annually from the state. This revenue is used for infrastructure and road repair in every county. Passage of this bill by the Legislature would do away with these much-needed revenues.

This bill was amended to allow local governments to make the decisions — i.e. county commissioners. In many rural Montana counties, large landowners are the commissioners, or they are related to seated commissioners. This bill encourages the largest public lands taking since the recent proposed release of Wilderness Study Areas.

Montanans deserve better than this smoke-and-mirrors approach.

Contact the Governor for a Veto.

Tony Schoonen

 

Further reading:

HB550 Standard Article

Schoonen OpEd HB550

Montana HB 550 Oppose – Fed-Aid HWY Program “Open to public travel” requirement

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Articles and Information on this site represent the opinion of the writer and are not intended as legal advice.
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