Bill to Levy Permit Fee on OHVs Rejected by Senate Committee

Nashville, TN (2017-03-27) A proposed bill that would have allowed Scott County to add a permit fee onto certain off-highway-vehicles (OHV) has failed in the Senate Transportation Committee.

By a 6-2 margin Monday afternoon, the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee killed a proposed bill that would have allowed Scott County to tack-on an additional permit fee on certain OHV being operated in conjunction with special events held in the county.  SB0812 would have imposed a temporary permit fee on each OHV operated on any private or public recreational trail or area as part of a commercial endeavor involving OHV, where admission was charged and more than 5,000 persons were expected to attend within a continuous seven-day period.

The bill was introduced at the request of the Scott County Commission, which was trying to capitalize on a recently enacted state law allowing for the registration of OHVs for operation on county roads.  The bill, as written, didn’t accurately reflect the county’s intent; however, the bills fate ultimately was decided on the constitutionality of the proposed pricing structure, not the reason behind it.

“To me, it seems constitutionally suspect…to charge somebody different from one county to another,” commented Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville).  As proposed the bill would have levied a permit fee of $10 on riders outside the county, and $4 for those living inside the county.  The disparity in price left some members of the committee hesitate to act without further advice from legal counsel.  A couple of the members suggested pushing back action on the bill until its next meeting on Wednesday.

The recently enacted state law regarding the registration of OHV for use on county roads is based on a similar pricing scheme.  Per that law, state residents owning OHV may register those vehicles for use on county roads by paying an annual registration fee.  Currently, those fees, based on vehicle classification, are $10 and $11, respectively.  The law also provides for the purchase of a temporary permit for out-of-state OHV operators.  These temporary permits are valid for up to 30 days.  While the final cost is subject to add-ons, the base cost of the temporary permit is $4.  The premise behind the county’s request was to flip the costs back onto those residing outside the community, and charge an additional $10 fee on those outside the county, and $4 for those living inside the county.

While the ideology behind the fee was similar to the state statute, it differed in that it made a distinction between state residents based on their county of residence, not whether or not they lived in or outside the state.  Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), who sponsored the bill on the county’s behalf, argued that state statute had already set a precedent by imposing bifurcated fees on OHVs, and felt the committee should solicit input from the State Attorney General before killing the bill.  “Would there, Mr. Chairman, be in interest in getting this out of committee with the understanding it will be held in calendar to seek an expedited opinion of the Attorney General?” Yager inquired.  Yager’s gamble would have kept the bill alive pending receipt of the opinion, but was a brazen move considering the demeanor of the panel.  Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), who chairs the Transportation Committee, warned such a request could leave the bill in limbo for the balance of the session and delay action until next year.

While the pricing structure seemed a principal concern amongst members, some questioned whether the county had considered the impact such a fee would have on the very industry it was trying to tax.  “In a lot of these rural counties, these off road vehicles bring a lot of money into the county…and a lot of tax dollars and a lot of counties would like to have more,” commented Senator Frank S. Niceley (R-Strawberry Plains).  “I hope your County Commission realizes when you tax these out-of-county people, you gonna have fewer people coming in…spending the night, buying gas, and buying food in restaurants,” he added.

Senator Niceley’s comments were echoed by Senator Tracy, both of whom voted against the bill.  Other opposed to the bill were:  Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma), Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville), Sen. John Stevens (R- Huntingdon), and Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville).  Chairman Bailey and Sen. Becky Duncan Massey (R-Knoxville) voted in favor of the measure.