State lawmakers unveiled legislation Jan. 20 that calls for stiffer penalties for off-highway vehicle riders who damage public and private lands. Supporters say the legislation would protect Minnesota's outdoors by reigning in repeat offenders and deterring future violators.
The legislation seeks to protect Minnesota's outdoors by holding reckless off-highway vehicle riders responsible for the damage they cause. Under the legislation, the state would increase fines for such violations, place violations on a driver's record, create a telephone hotline to report violations, seize vehicles from repeat offenders, and strengthen a damage restoration account.
Strengthening the existing law has broad support in Minnesota. According to a 2004 poll, conducted for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership, 85 percent of Minnesotans support increasing fines for OHV violators who destroy fragile lands, and 70 percent support putting OHV violations on a driver's record.
"ATV owners and riding clubs have long said they wanted to rein in the few 'bad apples' and now they have their chance," said Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), author of the Senate legislation. "Responsible ATV riders should support this common sense bill rather than allow our forests and wetlands to be trashed by reckless, lawbreaking riders."
Bill sponsors include Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point) and Reps. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska), Paul Thissen (DFL-Minneapolis), and Margaret Anderson-Kelliher (DFL-Minneapolis).
Bill supporters allege that existing penalties do not deter reckless ATV, dirt-bike motorcycle, and 4 x 4 truck riding on public and private lands, and that it is time to protect Minnesota's remaining fishing streams and hunting lands. In the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2004, more than 3,100 tickets and warnings were issued to OHV violators. Of that figure, 86 percent of the perpetrators were adults.
"Violation figures challenge the age-old argument that lawbreakers are young and don't know any better," said Susan Solterman, policy director of Audubon Minnesota. "Adults should have learned Minnesota's OHV laws long ago, and this legislation will help cement that requirement."
Conservationists pointed to a July 3, 2004 incident in Crow Wing State Forest to illustrate the need for tougher penalties. In that case, a Minnesota DNR conservation officer issued seven tickets to an OHV violator who remarked that he "didn't care about the laws" and that the officer should give the violator as many tickets as the officer "felt necessary."
The legislation would also ban snorkels and extreme tires, limit 4 x 4 trucks to state forest roads, and require license plates on the front and back of ATVs.
Forty-seven conservation and environmental member organizations of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership support the Responsible Off-Highway Vehicle Riding bill as part of MEP's Protect Our Water 2005 agenda.
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