Many legislative sessions across the South were disrupted by COVID-19 this year. While a few states completed their sessions before social distancing restrictions were enacted, other states suspended their sessions and have just recently resumed legislative action. States are generally focusing on economic relief and other high-priority legislation, and some states are expected to call special sessions this year to address outstanding issues. Below is a summary of the bills that the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation’s (CSF) States Program Team’s Southeast regional staff tracked, or will continue to track this year.
Florida: Hunter Harassment
On March 11, Senate Bill 1414 sponsored by Florida Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus member Senator Debbie Mayfield, passed the House (120-0) and is currently awaiting action by the Governor. The legislation would expand the statute prohibiting the harassment of hunters, anglers and trappers by extending protections to sportsmen and women on public lands and waters. The legislation would also add the green iguana (Iguana iguana) and the Teguna lizard (any species of the genera Salvator or Typinambis) to the list of exotic invasive species that are prohibited to the possession, importation, sale, barter, trade, or breeding.
Florida: Outdoor Sporting Goods Tax Holiday
Florida Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus member Senator Debbie Mayfield sponsored Senate Bill 1310 which would have established a sales tax holiday for outdoor sporting goods. Specifically, the legislation would exempt the sale of firearms, ammunition, and fishing tackle from sales tax on September 5, 2020. The sales tax waiver would benefit conservation programs in the state via the American System of Conservation Funding by incentivizing the purchase of items that are subject to federal excise taxes. The bill was indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration from the Senate Committee on Appropriations on March 14.
Kentucky: Conservation Funding
On January 28, the state’s budget bill was introduced that contained a $5.5 million cut to the state fish and wildlife agency’s budget from funding generated through boater registration fees. The fees were increased in 2017 to provide additional revenue for Asian carp abatement efforts, boater access improvements and enforcement activities. After the recreational angler and boater community pushed back against the budget cut, the bill was amended on March 6 to restore full funding to the state fish and wildlife agency. Asian carp (bighead, black, grass and silver) are invasive species that are negatively impacting fisheries, boaters and local economies, and CSF is engaged in various efforts at the state and federal level to combat the spread of Asian carp.
Louisiana: Wild Game Donations
On May 28, HB 35, legislation that would expand the game meat donation liability exemption statute to include feral hogs in the definition of “wild game” passed the Senate 34-0 after also passing the House on an unanimous vote (98-0). Louisiana Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Speaker Clay Schexnayder sponsored the bill which now awaits action by the Governor. Game meat donation programs work with processers and hunters to provide wild game, generally venison, to food shelters and other charities that serve families in need, and HB 35 would allow feral hogs to be donated as well.
Mississippi: Chronic Wasting Disease
On March 5, House Bill 450, legislation that would require deer harvested in an enclosure be tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD) cleared the House with strong bipartisan support. Caucus member Representative Becky Currie sponsored the legislation. Since CWD was first detected in the state in February 2018, measures have been implemented to combat its spread including the development of the North and Issaquena CWD management zones. Within these CWD management zones, supplemental feeding and the transport of carcasses are banned. The legislation currently resides in the Senate Committee on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Mississippi: Hunter Safety Course in School
On March 5, House Bill 1577, legislation that would authorize students in grades 7-12 in public school districts to take a course in hunter safety as an elective passed the House. Sponsored by Caucus member Speaker Philip Gunn, the bill language outlines the requirements for participation in the program, the educational guidelines for the curriculum, and the qualifications to be an instructor. The school-based hunter safety course, which could take place either during the day or after school, would meet the hunter education course requirement to purchase a hunting license. These types of recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) initiatives provide students with an opportunity to become more active in the outdoors and potentially create lifelong hunters. HB 1577 currently resides in both the Senate Committee on Education and Committee on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Mississippi: Managing Feral Swine
On March 10, Senate Bill 2727, legislation that would prohibit the transportation of live feral hogs within the state passed the Senate. Senate Bill 2727 would also remove the ability for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks to issue permits for the transportation of feral hogs, live swine or Russian boars. Feral swine cause significant damage to natural resources and pose a risk for infecting game and non-game wildlife as disease vectors. The bill awaits a vote by the full House.
Tennessee: Food Donations Standards
On March 20, Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus member Governor Bill Lee signed legislation into law that strengthens the game meat donation liability exemption statute for venison donated through a game meat donation program by increasing the liability standard from negligence to gross negligence. The legislation also expands the liability protections to include venison donated directly to an individual for personal use. In 2019, the Tennessee Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus donated $5,000 to the Hunters for the Hungry program.
Virginia: Management of Menhaden Fishery
On March 8, legislation was signed into law that transfers authority to manage Atlantic menhaden from the legislature to the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Menhaden are important forage food for many recreationally important species, and the legislation will enable the Commonwealth to comply with the Interstate Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for Atlantic menhaden after the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission found the Commonwealth out of compliance with Amendment 3 of the FMP for its failure to enforce the Chesapeake Bay fishery cap. Secretary Ross subsequently affirmed the noncompliance finding, and the legislation was necessary to avoid a moratorium on fishing for Atlantic menhaden in Virginia state waters.
Virginia: Increased Penalties for Hunting, Angling and Trapping Violations
On March 12, legislation that increases the penalties for various hunting, angling and trapping violations was signed into law. Sponsored by Virginia Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Delegate Hyland “Buddy” Fowler, HB 449 provides that any person convicted of violating laws prohibiting hunting or fishing out of season, hunting while under the influence of alcohol or any narcotic drug, shooting from vehicles and various other wildlife related violations, may be prohibited by the court from hunting, trapping or fishing in the Commonwealth for a period of one to five years.
Virginia: Legislation to Establish Elk Hunting in Virginia
On March 12, legislation that authorizes the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries (Board) to create a separate special elk license to hunt elk within the designated elk management zone was signed into law. The bill also authorizes the Board to establish quotas and procedures to purchase a special elk license and authorizes the Board to charge nonrefundable application fees for residents and nonresidents. CSC Co-Chair Delegate James Edmunds sponsored the legislation.
Virginia: Public Lands Sunday Hunting
A priority bill for the Virginia sportsmen’s community that did not advance this session was HB 1632 which would have allowed Sunday hunting on public lands. The legislation was sponsored by Caucus Co-Chair Delegate James Edmunds. Specifically, the bill would have expanded the exception to public lands on the prohibition against hunting or killing any wild bird or wild animal, including nuisance species, with a gun, firearm or other weapon on a Sunday. Hunting deer or bear with the assistance of dogs on a Sunday would have still been prohibited. CSF and partners supported the legislation, and CSF will continue to work on this issue moving forward.
West Virginia: Increased Replacement Costs for Wildlife
On March 25, legislation was signed into law that increases the penalties for game, fish and protected species taken illegally. Caucus Co-Chair Senator Bill Hamilton sponsored companion legislation SB 469. Specifically, the legislation applies to the illegal harvest of bear, deer, wild turkey, elk, native brook trout, raven, hawk and owl species. Additionally, violators may have their hunting and fishing license revoked for five years and shall not be issued any other hunting license for a period of five years.
West Virginia: Use of Tracking Dogs to Recover Game
On March 25, legislation that authorizes the use of leashed dogs for tracking mortally wounded deer or bear was signed into law. Legislation allowing the use of tracking dogs to recover game has been a priority for the Caucus for a number of years, and this law will support increased recovery of harvested game. The hunter must accompany the dog handler, and only the hunter may kill the deer or bear.
West Virginia: Apprentice Licenses
On March 25, the Governor signed legislation that removes the limitation on the number of hunting and trapping apprentice licenses that a person may purchase. Individuals were previously prohibited from purchasing more than three hunting and trapping apprentice licenses was signed into law. Apprentice licenses support hunter recruitment efforts because they provide novice hunters the opportunity to hunt on a try-before-you-buy basis under the supervision of an experienced and licensed hunter. Caucus member Delegate Amy Summers sponsored the legislation.
West Virginia: Weapons Preemptions
On March 25, Governor Justice signed knife preemption and firearms preemption legislation into law that prohibits municipalities from limiting the right of any person to purchase, possess, transfer, own, carry, transport, sell or store any deadly weapon or firearm. Preemption prevents regulation by local jurisdictions and creates uniformity across the state so knife and firearms owners are not subject to a confusing patchwork of local regulations.
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?