AUGUSTA — A measure to allow Gold Star Families to use Maine’s parks, beaches and camping areas for free sailed through a committee last week and is headed to the full Legislature.

“We in Maine, especially in recent years, have done a noble job of honoring and rewarding our veterans for their service and our Gold Star Families for their sacrifice,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Bettyann Sheats, an Auburn Democrat. “This bill is another way to acknowledge these families.”

Rep. Bettyann Sheats, D-Auburn, discusses her bill to honor Gold Star Families before the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee recently. (Courtesy photo).

There are 185 Gold Star Families in Maine. They include widows, widowers, parents, children, brothers, sisters and grandparents of military personnel who died in the country’s service.

The Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee unanimously agreed with the proposal despite concerns raised by a state official that so many people are already allowed free entry that the financial burden is falling on an ever-smaller percentage of the population.

The director of the Bureau of Parks and Lands at the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Tom Desjardin, did not oppose Sheats bill but testified the state allows free day use to those who are 65 or older, 5 or younger or disabled military veterans.

Together, they represent just shy of a third of Mainers, he told lawmakers.

“It is conceivable that the Legislature could be asked to exempt park fees for other worthy groups, such as first responders, state workers, teachers and countless other groups until a shrinking minority of people who pay to visit state parks are essentially paying for a growing majority of visitors who are admitted free,” Desjardin told the committee.

He said while his department has “great respect for Gold Star Families and other groups who seek free admission to parks, we encourage the committee to consider the cumulative effect of these requests over time and whether they will start us down a slippery slope of regularly adding to the categories of people who are admitted to parks for free.”

Sheats proposed that vehicles displaying a Maine Gold Star Family license plate should be able to enter a state-owned park, camping area or beach without charge.

“There is one group within the military family that is revered and honored by all. And despite that status, no one wants to join. That is the burden and honor of being a Gold Star Family,” Sheats said in a prepared statement.

Sheats is a veteran who is in her second term in the Maine House of Representatives. Her district includes Minot and part of Auburn.

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