As the clock winds down on the Legislature’s regular session, Rep. Jerome “Zee” Zeringue confirmed to Louisiana Sportsman that legislation which would have increased hunting and fishing license fees for many state residents is officially dead this year.
Zeringue (R-Houma) had authored HB 687, which would have raised almost $7 million annually for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, but it failed on the floor of the House on April 23 with a vote of 54 in favor and 27 against. (The legislation needed 70 votes to pass because it involved a fee increase.)
However, since the legislation received at least 53 votes, Zeringue had the option of reintroducing the bill on the House floor again during the current regular session.
“I’m not going to bring it back up, primarily because the votes are not there. The will of the body is not to pursue it in its present form, so what we’re going to do is work with those hunting and fishing interests and continue to work with the Department on bringing in the commercial side, as well,” Zeringue said. “And I think if we can put together a collective package, we can garner more support and get the votes we need to pass this — because ultimately it’s in the best interest of the resource, and the Department.”
One comprehensive bill for 2019
Although the LDWF hadn’t proposed increasing license fees since 2000, the fact that recreational hunters and anglers were facing an increase with the legislation — while commercial interests were not — rubbed some people the wrong way. LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet’s original plan was to pass the recreational side increases this year, and then pursue increases for the commercial side in 2019.
Montoucet confirmed work would begin after this regular session to look at the commercial fees and begin preparations to present one comprehensive bill next year. The Department's budget has taken a big hit in the last several years because of declining mineral revenues due to low oil prices.
“Certainly we’re going to go home and regroup, and look at what we did, and it will give us an opportunity to look at the commercial side also, and probably bring it back next year with a complete package including the commercials — so nobody will be able to gripe saying they’re the only side getting hit, and the other side is not getting hit,” Montoucet said. “At least we have half of the puzzle done, and we can do a little fine-tuning and then we can work on the commercial side, so we’ll have more time. It’s not like we have to go home and redo the plan all over again.”
In light of the bill failing and the Department operating in deficit spending now, Montoucet said he and his staff are already planning ahead and examining potential areas to cut.
“The first thing we’re going to do … is sit down and figure out what price of oil we need to bring our budget back in line — what’s ground zero? The other component that a lot of people overlook is production. If production isn’t there, we’ve got a problem. So we have to determine at certain price levels, what does the production have to be?” Montoucet said. “And we’re going to look at the trend. I’ve told them we better start planning ahead and we better start looking at in this scenario: If we’re $10 million short, what are we going to fund, and what are we not going to fund?
“I certainly don’t want to get rid of people — that’s my most important asset for what we do .…
But we’re certainly going to start doing things to prepare ourselves and work on if things don’t change. I’m not going to wait until the last minute. And I’m certainly not going to kick the can down the road - there’s been too much of that going on.”