Senior citizen park discounts saved by Senate vote

TOPEKA — 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.

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

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.

Although all the permits expire at the end of the year, the parks department offers the discounted passes during the off season to try to maintain continuous funding year-round.

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.

For Kansas seniors and the disabled, the additional cost of a yearly park permit 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 cutting into their buying power.

“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.