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spectr17
01-16-2003, 02:44 AM
January 14, 2003

Hunting, fishing bills on the table


By MARK TAYLOR, THE ROANOKE TIMES

Virginia's General Assembly session is just getting started, but plenty of outdoors-related items have already made their way into the legislative hopper.

Among the more intriguing proposals are a bill to combine the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries with the Marine Resources Commission, and one that would require all personal watercraft operators to complete a boating safety course.

Game department officials hoped a delegate would introduce legislation to increase the price of hunting licenses for Virginia residents, but that hasn't happened.

House Bill 2154 would consolidate Virginia's game department and Marine Resources Commission into a single agency as the Department of Game and Marine Resources. The bill is not a surprise, especially in tough fiscal times when streamlining is seen as a way to save money.

The agency would manage the state's "game and marine resources, including commercial, recreational and environmental interests." The bill would establish an 11-member, governor-appointed board to oversee the commission. A "Game and Marine Police" department would handle the commission's law enforcement duties.

Such a consolidation wouldn't be unprecedented. Natural resource agencies in some other coastal states oversee both freshwater and saltwater fishing regulations.

However, I suspect this bill will not fly this time around.

The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Marine Resources Commission are worlds apart these days, in large part because commercial fishing is such a huge part of coastal fisheries management.

There are dozens of less ambitious bills currently under consideration. Some will eventually make it into law, but others are certainly doomed.

Senate Bill 760 would require anyone who owns or operates a personal watercraft to have completed a boating safety course. A current law requires the course only for kids 14 and 15 years old. Kids under 14 are not allowed to operate a personal watercraft.

Although adult-driven personal watercraft continue to account for a high percentage of Virginia boating accidents, I doubt the bill has any chance of passing.

Standing a much better chance of passing is House Bill 1874, which would allow hunters to contribute $2 to the Hunters for the Hungry program when they buy a hunting license.

A set of companion bills that could fly are House Bill 1660 and Senate Bill 1120, which would require children under 7 to wear a personal flotation device while on a recreational boat under 21 feet.

Wildlife damage is the focus of House Bill 1765. Sure to create a lively debate, the bill would authorize the game department to issue deer kill permits to landowners whose residential plants have been damaged by deer. The permit would be $60.

Several bills aim to increase license fees.

House Bill 1663 would increase the cost of a non-resident hunting license from $60 to $80, and a three-day nonresident license from $30 to $40. House Bill 1996 would establish a recreational boat fishing license. The $50 license would cover all fishermen in the boat. Such a license is currently available only to saltwater fishermen.

An increase of the price of recreational saltwater licenses also is in the works as part of Gov. Mark Warner's proposed budget. The plan calls for increasing the price of individual license from $7.50 to $12.50, and the boat license from $30 to $50.

The idea has angered some coastal fishermen not because they oppose paying more to support recreational fishing programs, but mainly because commercial fishermen aren't being asked to pay a similar increase.

A bill to increase resident hunting fees has not been introduced, surely a disappointment to game department officials.

Several months ago department leaders said they hoped the General Assembly would consider and approve raising the license fees from $12.50 to $15.50. The change could raise close to $5 million for the budget-strapped agency.

That hope appears in vain.

It seems delegates who might normally champion such a bill fear that it might only open the door to further cuts to money raised by 1998's House Bill 38. That bill diverts to the department a portion of sales tax revenue from the sale of outdoor gear. House Bill 38 funds have come under almost constant attack in recent years.

It's not like hunters are pestering their delegates to support hunting license increase legislation. Many hunters I've spoken with say they'd happily pay more for licenses, but only if the money raised stays with the game department and goes toward funding hunting programs. Unfortunately, such assurances are hard to come in the current budget climate.

Bills can be tracked on the General Assembly's site on the Internet http://legis.state.va.us. The Department of Game and Inland Fisheries also summarizes and tracks bills related to the agency. See http://www.dgif.state.va.us.

TScottW99
01-19-2003, 07:59 AM
THIS IS A LEGISLATIVE ALERT AND IT IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT THAT YOU, AS A SPORTMAN OR SPORTWOMAN, READ THIS AND TAKE ACTION.

We are all aware of the Virginia budget shortfall and its impact on the State's general fund revenues. We are also aware that our legislators chose to take money generated by House Bill 38 to help meet this shortfall.

As Bill Cochran said in the Roanoke Times last year, "Forget the argument about who is to blame for this mess. The important questions is, how much meat will be left on the bones of natural resource agencies, including the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission and the Department of Conservation & Recreation? HB 38 is the program that diverts a portion of the state excise tax on certain outdoor equipment to the DGIF (up to $13 million annually). The system was put into place by the 1998 General Assembly after a case was made that the DGIF was heading toward bankruptcy. The bill was the child of Del. Vic Thomas, D-Roanoke. It did not receive a single negative vote in either the House or Senate."

This has resulted in Virginia being number 50 in the United States in per capita funding for wildlife programs.

Now comes a new attack on VDGIF and the sportsmen of Virginia, House Bill 2154. If passed it will combine VDGIF and the Marine Resources Division. Along with this come additional obligations and related costs.

If we, as sportsmen, sit idly by and allow this bill to be passed, it will be the end of the Virginia of Department of Game and Inland Fisheries as we know it.

HB 2154 Virginia Department of Game and Marine Resources Patron - Phillip A. Hamilton

Summary as introduced:
Virginia Department of Game and Marine Resources; established. Combines the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to form the Virginia Department of Game and Marine Resources. Existing regulations are to remain in effect until the new agency amends such regulations.

Click here to view: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.ex...?031+ful+HB2154 (http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?031+ful+HB2154)

You are urged to contact your state senator and delagate and request that they vote against House Bill 2154.

To find your state senator and delagate click here: http://legis.state.va.us/House/Delegates.htm

Or call: the legislative hotline at 1- 800/ 889-0229 and voice you opposition to this bill. It takes about 2 minutes total. Call today!!!

Please call your friends and hunting or fishing buddies and urge them to do get involved. We need call this week