By Diana Bowley, Of the NEWS Staff - DEXTER - A compromise has been proposed concerning an amendment that would usurp local control over the activities of all-terrain vehicles. The amendment is attached to a bill designed to tidy up Maine's fish and wildlife laws. The move by the Legislature's Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee to add the amendment to LD 1482 was perceived by some town officials and the Maine Municipal Association as a sneak attack on local ordinances. The amendment would prohibit municipalities from enacting and enforcing any local ordinances regarding the operation of all-terrain vehicles.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Matt Dunlap, D-Old Town, confirmed Friday that he will introduce another amendment to the bill to assuage those ruffled by the first amendment. His clause would protect local authority over all-terrain vehicles on municipal property, including rights of way and easements.
The proposed bill with the amendment, which is on Gov. John Baldacci's desk awaiting his signature, will be recalled, revised and presented to the House and Senate for adoption, according to Dunlap.
Dunlap said the original amendment was not a backhanded effort; it was approved unanimously by the committee and discussed in public committee sessions, but was not included in a public hearing held on the bill. Nor was the amendment an effort to preclude municipalities' governing the use of all-terrain vehicles, according to Dunlap. The committee, he said, was merely seeking uniformity in the regulation of these vehicles.
"It was designed to keep a clean slate for the Legislature to make comprehensive changes to all-terrain vehicle laws and make them uniform across the state," Dunlap said.
"The [amendment] surprised us a bit because the bill didn't address the issue at all," Geoff Herman, MMA director of state and federal relations, said Friday. The amendment, viewed as a preemption of municipal home rule authority, was not well received by town officials.
One of those town officials said the amendment is another erosion of local authority.
"It would remove our capability to enforce restrictions on public property," said Robert Simpson, Dexter town manager.
Dexter has a number of prohibitions in its ordinances regarding the use of all-terrain vehicles on public property. Under this amendment, he said the town would have no authority to govern all-terrain vehicle use at airports, golf courses or cemeteries.
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