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State park license plate fee increases for 2012


HELENA — An increase in the voluntary license plate fee for state parks is among a few new state laws set to go into place with the New Year, along with a regularly scheduled increase in the minimum wage.

While most of the new laws adopted by the Legislature earlier in the year have already taken effect, there are some new laws with a Jan. 1 effective date.

One increases the fee that drivers pay for state parks when licensing a vehicle, although those who do not want to pay the fee are not required to. The fee goes from $4 to $6 at the start of the New Year.

The money goes toward operation of state parks, fishing access sites, and the Montana Heritage commission that operates the old West towns of Virginia City and Nevada City. The increase is expected to raise an extra $1 million a year.

About three-quarters of drivers elect to pay the fee each year, although state officials anticipate participation will drop slightly with the increase in the fee. The fee is the largest source of revenue for the parks, which don't receive money from hunting licenses or from the state general fund.

The Montana State Parks department uses the money from the fee, first enacted in 2004, for maintenance and operation. It can't go toward new projects. The agency says the fee allows Montana residents access to 54 state parks with no entrance fees.

The state's minimum wage is also scheduled to go up Jan. 1, although that is the result of cost-of-living increases mandated by a 2006 ballot initiative and not legislative action.

The state's minimum wage will increase 30 cents to $7.65 an hour, directly helping about 15,000 workers in the state, estimates show. That increase will mean an extra $624 per year in income for a full-time minimum wage worker.

The 2006 initiative sets the state minimum wage at the greater of either the current state or federal minimum wage. It also added a cost-of-living adjustment to the state minimum wage based on the Consumer Price Index.

With the new year, small trailers will again be able to small license plates like they used to, or owners can opt for a full-sized plate.

Another law going into place allows disabled people to register and license golf carts for use on city streets.

Coincidentally, the Motor Vehicle Division says it is formally releasing rules on Jan. 1 implementing a law from earlier in the year that also allows more golf carts on streets. The rules let local governments establish an ordinance allowing golf carts on streets inside their city limits.

A few more new laws from the 2010 Legislature go into effect this spring, including a provision for a new hunting license for former Montanans who have moved away but still have relatives in the state. The special license for "nonresident relatives born in Montana" will cost much less than a typical nonresident hunting license, but more than a normal resident license.


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