A bill that would open up state park reservations to Florida residents one month before anyone else could receive some amendments in coming weeks expanding on the concept.
Palm Harbor Republican Sen. Ed Hooper brought the bill, Senate Bill 76, before the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources this week as the first bill it hears this year.
“This bill does a simple thing,” Hooper said. “Today, when that slot opens for reservations, third-party vendors take up all the spots and resell those, usually at a profit. If you’re a Floridian and you want to reserve a spot, good luck to you.
“All this bill does is creates a one-month window that only Florida residents might reserve a spot in one of our state parks, that all of these residents pay for. So, 12 months prior to that time, Floridians with a valid driver’s license can reserve that spot. One month later, the rest of the world can have their turn.”
Majority Leader Ben Albritton suggested splitting the time and giving Florida residents a leg up every six months or so. Hooper said it was an interesting idea but one he hasn’t yet asked of state park officials to see if they could easily implement.
“There’s been some discussion, and your wonderful staff has brought up the prospect of maybe including campsites and cabins, maybe boat opportunities, to be part of this,” Hooper said. “I chickened out and decided to take it as-is, at least through one committee, then we’ll amend the dog-gone dickens out of it if we have to.”
Fort Myers GOP Sen. Jonathan Martin suggested these sort of buys happen because the state charges less than market value for these reservations, and asked whether there have been discussions at charging a higher rate for out-of-state visitors. Hooper said that wasn’t addressed yet.
Albritton’s suggestion received an early vote of confidence from Vice Chairwoman Gayle Harrell.
“We used to do a whole lot of camping, and in fact RVing, and I would include RV sites as well as the on-site, little houses they have in some places,” Harrell said. “Include it all. Let’s make sure our Florida residents who are paying for these parks, and we are paying the upkeep for the parks, get first dibs at the beautiful amenities we have out there.”
The committee unanimously voted to favorably report the bill.