Contact: Kent Keene, Lower Midwestern States Coordinator
Though Missouri’s 2020 legislative session has been suspended due to the COVID-19 outbreak, there are still many important pieces of legislation that sportsmen and women should be aware of in the Show-Me state. Once the legislative session resumes, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) will continue to track and engage on legislation to protect and advance our sporting heritage. Until then, an update of the 2020 legislative session is included below.
Prescribed Burn Act (SB 661 & HB 1547)
Introduced at the beginning of the 2020 legislative session, each of these bills would protect landowners and managers against liability for damages caused by prescribed fires, or the smoke produced by a prescribed fire, unless the landowner, in accordance with a written burn plan and under the direction of a prescribed burn manager, is proven to be negligent. Prescribed fire is one of the most effective management tools available to landowners. Fires are used to improve habitat conditions for many species of wildlife (including many game species), reduce fuel loads to help mitigate future wildfire risks, and improve forest health.
In both bills, the authors and co-sponsors, including Missouri Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chairs Representative Tracy McCreery, acknowledge that prescribed burning is a tool that benefits public safety, the environment and the economy. On March 2, CSF submitted a letter of support for SB 661 to members of the Missouri Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus supporting the current language. Currently, both bills have been passed by their first committee and await further consideration in their chambers of origin.
Right to Hunt and Fish (SJR 62 & HJR 59)
Each of these joint resolutions propose a constitutional amendment that would guarantee the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife in Missouri. To become ratified, these bills would need to pass the legislature and be approved by Missouri voters during the November election. Though neither bill has progressed out of committee, fortunately, Missouri’s constitution places management authority over hunting and fishing regulations in a Conservation Commission with commissioners appointed by the governor. The commissioners, and the trained biologists working for the Department of Conservation, ensure that wildlife management decisions that impact hunting and angling are science-based and in the best interest of the state’s sportsmen and women. A constitutional amendment that guarantees Missourians have a right to hunt and fish would further ensure that hunting and fishing are preferred methods of wildlife management.
Conservation Sales Tax Reallocations (HJR 107 & HJR 112)
These bills sought to decrease the amount of revenue that the Missouri Department of Conservation receives from the currently 1/8 of 1% Conservation Sales Tax. Annually, this tax on all goods and services generates approximately $120 million in critical conservation funding. This supplement to the American System of Conservation Funding was approved by legislators and Missouri voters in 1976 and remains the benchmark for other states seeking to supplement conservation funding. Fortunately, HJR 107 was removed from consideration and HJR 112 has seen no action since introduction in early February.
Anti-Firearms (Several Bills)
As in other states, there have been several bills introduced in Missouri during the 2020 legislative session that would have detrimental effects on the shooting sports industry. These include attempts to limit the availability and ownership of standard capacity magazines, create unfair limitations on the ability of sportsmen and women to buy and sell firearms, age restrictions regarding modern sporting rifles, and create restrictions on the sale of ammunition. Fortunately, none of these bills have advanced out of committee and remain unlikely to pass. CSF and partners are monitoring these bills to ensure that our rights to participate in hunting and recreational shooting are protected.
Firearm Safety Instruction (HB 1295)
Unlike the bills mentioned above, HB 1295 seeks to promote hunter education and responsible firearm handling in schools. This bill would require school districts to incorporate hunter safety instruction with a firearm safety component as part of the physical education curriculum at the sixth, seventh, or eighth grade level. For students or parents who object to such instruction, there would be an opportunity to opt out of the program. In addition to the junior high hunter education requirements, this bill would also allow high schools to offer firearm safety instruction in their physical education curriculum. Permission from a student’s parent or legal guardian would be required to participate in the high school program. Finally, this bill would require all first-grade students to complete the Eddie the Eagle Gunsafe Program. Currently, hunter education and the Eddie the Eagle Gunsafe Program are available for school districts to incorporate at their discretion. Making hunter education and firearm safety instruction available for students can help recruit the next generation of sportsmen while ensuring such lessons are learned in highly controlled and safe environments.
In addition to the legislation referenced above, CSF monitors regulatory changes proposed by the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC). Unlike many other states, MDC is a constitutionally designated department. As mentioned above, this affords them authority over the management of Missouri’s fish and wildlife, including the power to establish and enforce hunting and fishing regulations. Regulatory changes of note that have been proposed or enacted thus far in 2020 include:
- Taking Feral Hogs - In 2016, MDC closed all lands owned and managed by the Department to feral hog hunting. This closure was designed to prevent hunting from interfering with targeted trapping efforts favoring whole-sounder removal. In 2019, the U.S. Forest Service announced that Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri would also be closed to feral hog hunting. However, the Forest Service still allowed the incidental take of feral hogs by hunters using legal methods during deer and turkey hunting seasons. In response to this, MDC has proposed a regulatory change to allow similar opportunities for incidental take on state-owned and managed lands. Sportsmen interested in commenting on this proposed change may do so at this link from April 2, 2020 to May 1, 2020.
- Fishing License Suspension - In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Missouri Department of Conservation announced that fishing license and daily trout permits would not be required to fish in Missouri from March 27, 2020 through April 15, 2020. This step was taken to encourage Missouri sportsmen and women to get outside and fish while practicing social distancing. Once this initial period has expired, MDC will reassess the situation and determine if the suspension will be extended or if license requirements will be reinstated.
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