Sunday liquor sales stole the spotlight, but vacationers celebrating a long Independence Day weekend at one of Minnesota’s 75 state parks have probably already encountered another notable change brought to you by the state Legislature.
Starting July 1, state park fees went up for the first time in a decade: from $5 to $7 for one-day permits and from $25 to $35 for year-round vehicle permits. Snowmobilers, ATV riders and motorcyclists now pay more to enter the parks, and drivers buying special parks and trails license plates for their cars can also expect a fee increase.
All together, the Department of Natural Resources will use money from the higher fees to help offset years of inflation and stagnant funding. Trails will be groomed, park bathrooms will stay clean and park workers will be able to keep up with the crush of visitors on busy holidays like the Fourth of July.
DNR spokesman Chris Niskanen said lawmakers approved the increases because preserving state parks is a priority for Minnesotans.
“We had a lot of support from citizens for this,” he said. “We heard from folks on social media and folks who showed up at the Capitol and said: ‘This is OK, we’re fine paying a modest increase to keep up the kind of world-class facilities that we have.’ ”
Another change implemented this month will make it easier for active military members, disabled veterans and Purple Heart recipients to receive a free year-round vehicle permit that can be used in all state parks. Niskanen said eligible veterans and military members can receive a permit when they present their identification.
A few days in, the updated fees don’t seem to be slowing traffic in the parks. Niskanen said camping reservations have become tough to find, though people can search the DNR’s online reservation system to hunt for a spot. He said many veterans and others trying to avoid the noise and commotion of fireworks this week are turning to the parks as an alternative holiday destination — one that’s much quieter.
“We had record visitation last year and the year before, so our parks are as busy as they’ve ever been,” he said.
Outdoor enthusiasts interested in fishing or hunting can also expect a fee increase, though it won’t take effect until February 2018.
Meanwhile, July 1 ushered in a variety of other new changes passed in the recent legislative session. Among them: The state will spend more money fighting noxious weeds and protecting agricultural resources, including dedicating $1 million in each of the next two years for University of Minnesota researchers studying bird flu.
Though some lawmakers pushed for a delay on implementing a 2015 law requiring natural buffers between agricultural land and waterways, the Legislature ultimately kept to the original November 2017 deadline. But it did allow landowners a short grace period; if they file compliance plans for the law by Nov. 1, they can have until July 1, 2018, to get their plans in place.
Other new laws include:
• Credit union members, who previously had to vote by mail or in person for credit union elections, can now submit their ballots online.
• A broader range of people with autism, including young adults up to age 21, now qualify for therapy and treatment programs.
• Filing fees for civil and family court cases dropped. So did child support filing fees, from $100 to $50.
In addition, vendors applying for state contracts must now certify that they don’t discriminate against Israel in order to win contracts. The new law sponsored by Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, and Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, prohibits contracts with vendors who engage in “refusals to deal, terminating business activities or other actions that are intended to limit commercial operations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel.”