Lack of transferability irks Discover Pass foes

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In the seven weeks since the Discover Pass became Washington state law, its most virulent detractors have railed against its most controversial aspect: nontransferability between vehicles. And while sales of the pass have remained brisk, there has definitely been a stiff blowback from some user groups, notably hunters.

"I haven't gone to get one and I'm not going to, because I think it's totally ridiculous," said Nile Valley resident Gerald Michael. "I have two pickup trucks, my wife has a Tahoe, we're in and out of the woods constantly."

Requiring one pass for each of those vehicles, he said, "is silly."

Many Washington state legislators feel exactly the same way.

Two weeks ago, 49 of them -- a bipartisan collection of 35 representatives and 14 senators -- signed and sent a letter to the state's three public land-management agencies that may serve as a ray of hope for hunters, fishers and other state-lands recreationists just like Gerald Michael.

Their letter asked Washington State Parks director Don Hoch, state wildlife director Phil Anderson and public lands commissioner Peter Goldmark to "refrain from enforcement of the current agency interpretation of non-transferability" until the issue could be readdressed in the 2012 legislative session.

One of the signers was state Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, who said it was "certainly my intent" that the Discover Pass be transferable between vehicles: "I think we've got to make this much more convenient for the people of this state to use."

"My support for the Discover Pass was always soft; I kind of felt like hunters and fishermen were already carrying a lot of the freight and should have gotten a break on this Discover Pass," he said. "The document (hunters and fishers) are used to had these two lines on it for two different license plates. I think that's where we got screwed up. We need to make it clear that this is transferable between vehicles."

As far as those three agencies are concerned, though, the pass is for one vehicle only, and was printed with one line for one vehicle license plate. The Discover Pass website (discoverpass.wa.gov) says the pass is not transferable -- and that, said state Sen. Christine Rolfes, was not the intent of the legislation's authors.

"I would like to see transferability," said Rolfes, who spearheaded the Aug. 12 follow-up letter to the agency directors. "There was one version (of the bill) that allowed transferability, and the final version left transferability open. The real debate happened on the first draft that passed through, and I think it was intentionally left vague.

"All of us (in the Legislature) have a similar concern, and we're all hearing from Washington state residents who are annoyed or angry about it."

The agency directors' response to the legislators' letter that went out on Wednesday, though, didn't register recognition of that clamor. The letter, signed by Hock, Anderson and Goldmark, said the three "welcome the opportunity to actively work with you and other legislative members and staff to develop any necessary clarifying language" in the 2012 session.

As to the legislators' specific request -- restraining from enforcement on the transferability issue -- the agency heads didn't say a word.

Rolfes called their response "one of the biggest punts I've ever seen."

Blake, the house natural resources committee chairman, said requiring the pass for anyone driving through state recreation lands "just sounds like a recipe for staff being hurt."

Even "fully-trained enforcement officers" are putting themselves at risk whenever they're stopping vehicles, Blake said.

"You give your run-of-the-mill forester the ability to pull somebody over and check for a Discover Pass and you've put that employee at risk," he said. "That really concerns me.

"I looked at this more as a parking pass."

And, the desires of so many recreationists and at least several dozen legislators notwithstanding, state public-land users can -- and will -- be ticketed for using their Discover Pass on multiple vehicles.

"The statute says it's not transferable. If the Legislature wants to change that or clarify it, it would be nice for everybody," said enforcement Capt. Rich Mann of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

But as for being told by superiors not to ticket recreationists over the transferability issue, Mann said, that hasn't happened.

"We're not being advised (by superiors) to not enforce the law, let's put it that way."

Discover Pass sales have generated nearly $3 million during the first six weeks since the program's inception July 1.