Mathis says committee stalled two bills for rural, low income families

Assemblyman Devon Mathis said bill allowing every fourth grader free access to California State Parks and another regarding fire assistance grants were held up by Appropriations Committee

SACRAMENTO – A local legislator’s plan to give every fourth grader free access to California State Parks was held up in committee last week, meaning the law would not take effect in time for families to take advantage of learning opportunities over the summer break.

Assembly Republican Whip Devon Mathis (R-Visalia) said Assembly Bill 542, which would have waived entrance fees for fourth graders at the parks, stalled during the May 20 Assembly Appropriations Committee’s Suspense File Hearing.

“I am extremely disappointed in the Assembly Appropriations Committee and their blatant misalignment of priorities,” said Mathis.

Mathis said children have been stuck inside their homes for nearly a year, depriving them of many aspects of their childhood. He cited research showing children age 9-11 are at a unique developmental stage in their learning where they begin to understand how the world around them works in ways that are more concrete.

Devon Mathis
Assembly Republican Whip
California Dist. 26

“At this stage, they are receptive to new ideas and most likely to hold positive attitudes towards nature and the environment,” Mathis said in an interview after introducing the bill in February. “Sadly, many of these students are missing key opportunities to explore our great state and develop an appreciation for our park systems.”

Existing law only allows state park fees to be waived for students who are visiting the areas as part of a school outing or field trips but applies to grades K-12. The bill would waive the fees for any child in the 4th grade, or the 4th grade equivalent, who holds a valid federally issued “Every Kid in the Park” pass. The pass is issued by the National Park Service and gives all fourth grade students and their families an annual pass for free admission. The pass, which normally costs about $80 per year, gives holders admission to national parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife refuges.

The waiver will also include both a per vehicle entrance fee, including all passengers in the vehicle, and a per person entrance fee, including up to three people ages 16 and older and any children 15 years and younger accompanying a child with a pass. The bill would require the department to post on its website information on how to obtain the federal “Every Kid in a Park” pass, including a hyperlink to the federal program establishing the pass.

Mathis said now was a prime time to introduce AB 542 as more and more Californians are being vaccinated for COVID-19 after a year when their parents may have lost their job, worked reduced hours or simply had nothing left over after paying bills.

“If we act now and secure passage of this bill, then next year students can begin using these passes to explore our amazing state park system,” Mathis said. “The financial relief the bill offers can mean the difference between a new adventure and remaining at home, staring at screens.”

The only state park in Tulare County is Colonel Allensworth State Historical Park in the southwestern corner of the county. The park preserves the site of the first all-black community founded in California. Led by the town’s namesake, Col. Allen Allensworth led a courageous group of families and individuals who built a place of their own to give their children an opportunity to realize the American Dream of a discrimination-free society.

Other state parks nearby include the Tule Elk State Natural Reserve and the California State Mining and Mineral Museum Park Property. The reserve protects a small herd of tule elk once in danger of extinction due to hunting and loss of habitat. The tule elk are most active from late summer through early autumn at the park located on I-5 west of Bakersfield. The mining museum tells the story of explorers John C. Fremont and Kit Carson, who found the rich Mariposa Vein and opened the first mill to crush ore and extract gold in California. The museum is home to the Fricot “Nugget,” a 13.8-pound piece of gold is the largest remaining mass of crystalline gold from the Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. The museum is open year-round at the Mariposa Fairgrounds.

For more information on current hours and restrictions at state parks, wildlife and recreation areas, visit www.parks.ca.gov.

Mathis was also concerned about another bill that was held up by the committee. Assembly Bill 926 would have made a number of crucial change to Cal Fire’s grant programs by expanding and clarifying the definition of fire prevention activities, the requirements of the annual report to include of the socioeconomic characteristics of the communities, how wildfire risk is evaluated, and how grants are prioritized to eligible projects. If it is signed by the governor, the bill would have included removal of hazardous dead trees, creation of fuel breaks and community defensible space, and the creation of ingress and egress corridors to the list of activities eligible for CalFire’s local assistance grant program.

Given the widespread destruction and loss of life that wildfires have had in California over the recent years, Mathis said AB 926 was an essential step in protecting many of our most vulnerable communities.

“I am deeply troubled by the committee’s choice to hold two of my measures in particular, AB 542 and AB 926,” said Mathis. “Both of these measures had unanimous support throughout their respective policy committees, as well as resounding support from the communities that would have been most benefited by their passage. Despite our State’s budgetary surplus of $38 billion, the committee apparently did not deem these projects fiscally attainable. Tragically, such partisan politics means that our State’s disenfranchised and low-income communities of color, as well as the communities I was elected to represented, are hurt the most.”

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