Home>Articles>Bill Aimed to Protect Off-Highway Vehicle Competitions Passes Assembly Committee

Senator Brian Jones. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Bill Aimed to Protect Off-Highway Vehicle Competitions Passes Assembly Committee

SB 708 is the fourth iteration of the bill to go through the Legislature since 2020

By Evan Symon, July 8, 2024 5:08 pm

A bill that would save off-highway vehicle (OHV) competitions in California passed the Assembly Transportation Committee during the weekend, moving it to the Assembly Appropriations Committee for a vote next month.

Senate Bill 708, authored by Senator Brian Jones (R-San Diego), would require the department to issue a special permit to California residents to operate certain off-road motorcycles at sanctioned events, as well as  require the department to establish a fee for this permit. Specifically, the measure will create a new sanctioned event permit program for competition motorcycles to replace the Red Sticker registration program that ended in 2021. The decal is to then be displayed on competition motorcycles when operated at sanctioned events on public lands.

SB 708 is almost identical to the previous three iterations of the bill, also authored by Jones. In August 2020, SB 1024 passed in the Assembly a day before the session ended, but due to a rush of economic and COVID-19 related bills, the bill failed to make it to a deciding Senate vote in time. A year later it was tried again with SB 227, but, once again, the bill had a late start. Just before a critical Assembly Appropriations bill, SB 227 was placed on the suspense file thanks to a crunch of other bills and never came back up again. Finally, in 2022, SB 894 passed both houses but was vetoed by the Governor because of DMV cost concerns.

For SB 708, Jones updated the language to reflect the Governor’s veto and, earlier this year, brought it back for the fourth go-around. He has argued that competition OHVs have long been regulated through the Red Sticker program under the California Air Resources Board (CARB). This program has allowed competition OHVs to operate in the state for the past two decades. However, when the Red Sticker program ended in 2021 with no program to replace it, OHV competitions on public lands were thrown into confusion.

Fourth time around

As rules fell to the individual land managers, every place suddenly had non-streamlined rules. This uncertainty has since negatively impacted local businesses, jobs, and the economy of many rural and suburban regions that have long-hosted competitions. Additionally, funding for environmental work and law enforcement has also been lost.

With a financial hit now becoming much more clearer, lawmakers from both parties have been all-in for the bill. In the usually divisive Senate, it passed this May 39-0. And during the weekend with the Transportation committee, it moved up unanimously 15-0. While past iterations usually had some opposition from locals or environmental groups, opposition was almost non-existent for SB 708 this year, as funding is drying up and many rural locations that make money from such competitions are losing funds from these competitions during a tough economic time.

“SB 708 had another successful committee hearing with more bipartisan backing from our years of efforts to get this important legislation passed,” said Senator Jones in a statement on Monday. “We’ve worked hard for the past five years with OHV stakeholders and affected governmental agencies, including State Parks and the Air Resources Board. SB 708 is a true consensus measure that will allow OHV competition riders to continue their sport in a safe and responsible manner while being a strong part of the recreational economies in rural and suburban California.”

Matt Hollander, an ATV racer and instructor in San Bernardino County, added, “We’ve needed this new law for the next few years. And hey, we may look a little weird pulling up to these stores out in the desert or in these suburbs with a trailer full of motorbikes, but as soon as shop owners find that we are willing to buy a lot of stuff for the day or weekend we’re out there, they are open arms. Rural stores make bank when one of these meet-ups are nearby them.. You wouldn’t expect this, but we all want to have this in place again.”

“There have been complaints in the past like noise and, like this law points out, inconsistent rules, but those are being fixed. This one would just set it back right on track. There are dozens of groups like ours sponsoring this law for a reason.”

SB 708 is next expected to be heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee next month.

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