- Associated Press - Thursday, May 1, 2014

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - The Senate gave preliminary approval Thursday to a program to sell “hike safe” cards to hikers that would forgive them for any rescue expenses they’d otherwise owe New Hampshire for being negligent.

The Senate voted to send the bill to the chamber’s budget committee for review, but not until after Sens. Lou D’Allesandro, a Manchester Democrat, and Bob Odell, a New London Republican, warned their colleagues the program won’t raise enough money to plug a growing hole in the Fish and Game Department’s budget.

“It’s a political year, an election year. I don’t have much hope anything will be done,” said Odell.

The bill authorizes the state to sell voluntary hike safe cards for $25 per person and $35 per family. Most of the money would be used for search and rescue missions. People who obtain the cards would not be liable to repay rescue costs if their rescue was due to negligence on their part.

The bill also would exempt people with hunting and fishing licenses and anyone with an off-highway recreational vehicle registration, including for a snowmobile.

Hunters, anglers, boaters, snowmobilers and all-terrain vehicle riders currently pay almost all the rescue costs through license fees to the agency, but account for only about 14 percent of the rescues since 2006.

The department has struggled to keep up with the cost of rescues, which are primarily for helping lost or injured hikers who wander off a trail or find themselves unprepared for adverse weather. Rescue costs have ranged from about $200 to more than $50,000.

State law holds those rescued liable if they acted negligently, but efforts to collect the cost of rescues are not always successful.

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