RIDE-CT: Bills Seek To Alter “Passport To Parks” Burden

By Bud Wilkinson /

HARWINTON – It’s the law in Connecticut that vehicle owners must pay a “Passport to Parks” fee of $10 every time they register a car, truck or motorcycle for a two-year period. Yes, it’s a sawbuck for every vehicle. The money goes to the operations of state parks and provides free access to the parks.

The sum of $10 or $20 may not be much of a burden for someone who, for example, owns a car and a motorcycle. But more than that may be unfair to others. What about someone with several vehicles? What about the collector with lots of models? After all, a person can only operate one car, truck or bike at a time.

Why the need to bilk the registrant? It’s not like one person can simultaneously bring a dozen vehicles to a state park.

Several bills introduced this month in the Connecticut General Assembly in Hartford seek to rectify this situation by making the Passports to Parks fee structure more logical and equitable – or by eliminating it altogether. The fee started in 2018. It brings in an estimated $16 million annually, according to the volunteer organization Friends of Connecticut State Parks.

Receipt from a Connecticut motorcycle registration

Among the bills are:

Senate Bill No. 201 – Introduced by Sen. Norman Needleman, it would limit the fee to the first two vehicles an individual registers. Needleman is a Democrat who represents a dozen towns in southeastern Connecticut.

Even better…

House Bill No. 5403 – Introduced by Rep. Kevin Ryan, it would “charge only one motor vehicle registration fee per household for the Passport to Parks program.” Ryan is a Democrat who represents Bozrah, Montville and Norwich.

And even better…

House Bill No. 5075 – Introduced by Rep. Tami Zawistowski, it would “eliminate the Passport to Parks fee and replace it with fees that are charged to visitors of state parks and state forests.” Zawistowski is a Republican who represents East Granby and Windsor Locks.

Often is the case that state parks reach capacity during the summer months, meaning that vehicle owners who have essentially paid in advance for access by the act of registering their vehicle are denied permission to enter.

The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles office in Wethersfield, CT

Three other bills seek to have military veterans and/or senior citizen exempted from paying the existing Passport to Parks fee. (In my case, with a car, a pickup and two motorcycles registered, I pay $40 in fees. This is despite the fact I have only set foot in a state park maybe twice in the past two decades.)

These aren’t the only bills related to cars, trucks and motorcycles that are before the legislature. There are bills seeking to prohibit anyone from smoking in a vehicle when a child is present; to reduce the tax rate on diesel fuel; to waive the fee for specialty license plates for veterans; and to increase the penalty for passing a school bus when its red signal lights are flashing.

Inspection facility at the D.M.V. in Wethersfield, CT

There are also two bills that concern property taxation.

One would eliminate the property tax on motor vehicles and would require the state to reimburse municipalities for the revenue loss.

The other would “prohibit municipalities from assessing motor vehicles for property taxation at higher values than in the previous tax year.”

In all, there are roughly 800 bills before the General Assembly.

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About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. A graduate of Vermont Academy prep school, he holds a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville and drives a 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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