April 6, 2020

Connecticut: Activity on Sportsmen’s Policies from Start to Finish

Contact: Joe Mullin, New England States Senior Coordinator

In light of the actions being taken by legislatures responding to COVID-19, the Connecticut General Assembly will remain suspended until April 13 – though this date is subject to change. Up until this point, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) has been actively engaged in the Nutmeg State, through participating in Caucus meetings, submitting testimony pertaining to certain sportsmen-related bills, and preparing for the Second Caucus Game Meat Tasting Reception, which was subsequently cancelled as a result of the virus.

The Caucus held its first meeting of the year on January 8, during which Representative Pat Boyd was elected by his peers to serve as the fourth Co-Chair for the Caucus. Much to the benefit of the Caucus, Representative Boyd was already an engaged member who places significant value on our hunting and fishing traditions.

The Caucus’ second meeting was facilitated on January 22, during which members discussed the planning and logistics in preparation for the subsequently cancelled Second Annual Caucus Game Meat Tasting Reception. Through these discussions, the Caucus outlined what was shaping up to be a successful event, after last year’s reception was heralded as the largest attended event in the Legislative Office Building.

Similarly structured, the Caucus’ third meeting on February 19 was a review of progress made in preparation for the Caucus’ Reception, but it also saw a discussion spearheaded by Rick Jacobson, Bureau of Natural Resources Chief for the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection (DEEP), which regarded the Department’s regulatory proposals, such as authorizing hunters to pursue wild turkeys in the spring from noon to sunset.

On March 4, the Caucus hosted its fourth meeting, which would end up being the final meeting held to-date as a result of the recent COVID-19 outbreak. While part of the Caucus’ discussion centered around last-minute details surrounding the soon-to-be cancelled Reception, the majority of the time was spent on deliberating House Bill 5040 – a 35% excise tax on ammunition that would be directed towards gun violence prevention (discussed in greater detail below). The bill sponsor made an appearance at the meeting, receiving feedback from the Caucus on the negative implications that this bill imposed on Connecticut’s sportsmen and the state’s economy overall. Jake McGuigan, Managing Director of State Affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, was then given the opportunity to present the ways in which fish and wildlife departments, such as DEEP, benefit from revenue garnered through an already existing 11% excise tax on ammunition under the Pittman-Robertson Act, and how these funds support all citizens of Connecticut.

Leading up to the General Assembly’s hiatus, CSF weighed-in on several sportsmen-related bills that had received Committee hearings:

35% Excise Tax on Ammunition – House Bill 5040 (HB 5040)

HB 5040 would establish an astounding 35% excise tax on ammunition to be directed towards gun violence prevention and reduction efforts. Sportsmen and women play a pivotal role towards Connecticut’s conservation funding structure, and with sportsmen being incentivized through legislation such as this to purchase their ammunition out-of-state, significant funds will assuredly be lost. This legislation also unduly targets the sporting community. Recreational target shooters spend more money on firearms and ammunition – per capita – than hunters, and are the financial backbone to the American System of Conservation Funding, a unique “user-pays, public-benefits” structure.

CSF submitted a letter of opposition to HB 5040, emphasizing the detrimental effect that such an excessive tax would have on the sporting community at-large, and the state’s fish and wildlife conservation efforts. DEEP, the essential manager of Connecticut’s fish and wildlife resources, relies on the dollars driven by the American System of Conservation Funding to support efforts such as enhanced fish and wildlife habitat and populations, recreational access to public and private lands, shooting ranges and boat access facilities, wetlands protection and its associated water filtration and flood retention functions, and improved soil and water conservation. All of these projects benefit the sporting and non-sporting communities alike. While a hearing was held in the Joint Committee on Finance, Revenue and Bonding on February 27 for HB 5040, no vote or report has been issued.

“Big Six African Species” Ban – House Bill 5104 (HB 5104)

If passed, HB 5104 would prohibit the import, possession, sale, offer for sale, and transport of parts and products of any African elephant, lion, leopard, black or white rhinoceros, or giraffe. Invoking the misnomer of being the “Big Six African Species,” as opposed to the true “Big Five,” this bill would bring significant financial harm to African nations that host legal hunting, deflecting necessary funding for anti-poaching programs, while simultaneously crippling the economies of rural communities that are in great need of the monetary support. HB 5104 is counter to widely accepted and supported methods of wildlife conservation efforts, as similar legislation has failed any sake of legitimacy within the court system.

CSF led efforts in submitting a sign-on letter of opposition to the Joint Committee on Environment, with the support of 17 in-state and national conservation organizations, as well as one of the state’s largest taxidermy studios. Unfortunately, HB 5104 was reported favorably out of Committee (21-7) and is in the process of having the legalities of the bill, or illegalities in this case, reviewed by nonpartisan legal counsel. The next steps for HB 5104 will hinge on the legal guidance that results.

Ivory Ban – Senate Bill 294 (SB 294)

Simply put, HB 294 is an ivory ban, and offers no consideration for the effects that such a prohibition would have on the sporting community. This bill intends to forbid individuals from purchasing, selling, offer for sale, or possessing with the intent to sell ivory and rhinoceros horn if it was taken from the wild after February 26, 1976, with limited exceptions. While CSF recognizes the negative impacts that the unwarranted taking of wildlife and commercial hunting had on public trust resources, we support the role that hunters and anglers have historically taken to pass laws that largely eliminated markets and commercial traffic in animal parts, ensuring the sustainability of wildlife populations. Under this legislation, law abiding citizens in possession of ivory – many of whom are antique enthusiasts, hunters, firearm collectors, and musicians that have acquired products through purchases, trading, or inheritance – and who may not have any resemblance of a paper trail, would not be protected. SB 294 makes an exception for ivory that is part of a musical instrument that was made prior to February 26, 1976, but it unjustly does not extend the same protections to sportsmen and women.

CSF submitted a letter of opposition to the Joint Committee of Environment, highlighting the above arguments, and requesting that the Committee rejects the bill in its entirety. In response to COVID-19, the General Assembly is in recess and has not yet produced a vote or report on this particular bill. CSF will continue to fight anti-sportsmen legislation such as this, wherever it may arise.

Though only active for three months in 2020, the Connecticut General Assembly has proven to be quite active in the realm of fish and wildlife conservation. When the time comes for the legislature to reconvene, CSF will be there to pick up efforts to protect and advance hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and trapping in the Nutmeg State.

Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?

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