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Anti-AIS bill passes, waiting for governor’s signature

A Senate bill that would fund $13.9 million over two years to fight aquatic invasive species has been approved by the Legislature and waits for the governor’s signature.

All indications are that Gov. Steve Bullock will sign the bill, which is an attempt to prevent mussels from expanding from eastern Montana after mussel larvae were found in at least one lake last year.

SB 363 survived the amendment process and was approved by the Senate 39- 10 following a 95-5 vote in the House.

State Sen. Chas Vincent, R-Libby, spearheaded the funding effort, which will add a fee to users of hydroelectric power and fishing licenses.

The bill would require outof- staters to pay $15 more a year for a fishing license, while in-state residents would pay an extra $2. Vendors of fishing licenses will be able to collect a 50-cent fee for printing prevention passes that go with the fishing license fees.

Users of Flathead Electric would pay an additional 25 cents a month for every 1,000 kilowatt hours using a “pretty complicated formula,” Vincent said. The hydroelectric fees will be regulated by the state Public Service Commission.

Requirements that in-state and out-of-state residents pay $25 and $50, respectively, for boat decals and irrigators $25 a year were removed from the bill, along with an amendment to require out-of-state residents pay $25 a year to register their bicycles in the state and a fee on plastic non-recyclable bottle caps.

The bill would “sunset” in two years so the Legislature can revisit the issue.

“I’m glad we’re coming back in two years,” Vincent said, calling the bill “good news” and a “stop-gap measure.”

As a veteran legislator, Vincent said he felt compelled to take the bull by the horns and move forward with the legislation. “

It was different for me to carry a bill creating fees,” he said. “Somebody needed to step up and get it done.”

The state’s anti-AIS plan calls for adding 17 inspection stations to the 17 used last year. In addition, four decontamination stations would be set up for watercraft at Canyon Ferry and Tiber reservoirs on the east side of the state.

The plan would require out-of-state watercraft to be inspected prior to launch in Montana, along with those crossing from east to west inside the state.

The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes are requiring all watercraft users to get inspected at least once prior to entering Flathead Lake or the Lower Flathead River. On all other water bodies on the Flathead Indian Reservation, one can only use hand-propelled, non-trailered watercraft such as kayaks, canoes, rafts and paddleboards.

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