Legislators address hunting and fishing issues during 2013 legislative session

Out-of-state hunting licenses for high-schoolers, Hunters for the Hungry among bills sent to Gov. Bobby Jindal

Louisiana Legislature wrapped up its regular session in early June after debating dozens of bills related to hunting, fishing and the outdoors. A number of the proposals never made it through the process, having been voted down or pulled from consideration by lawmakers.

But many others have already become law, like legislation creating a new mooring program in the Atchafalaya Delta and another that guarantees game can be donated to nonprofit groups.

Several also are pending approval by Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has veto authority over most all bills passed by the Legislature.

What follows is a closer look at how the 2013 regular session shaped up for those who care about the woods and water.

Access
For those who enjoy houseboat camping, and the hunting and fishing opportunities in the Atchafalaya Delta Wildlife Management Area, Jindal has signed into law House Bill 376 by Rep. Stuart Bishop (R-Lafayette) that directs the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to create a mooring program for the WMA.

Under the program, 40 percent of the mooring sites will be awarded through a bidding process, while the rest will be allocated through a lottery. The associated fees would start at around $300 and be “used exclusively for the development, construction, maintenance and dredging of the mooring sites.”

Jindal also has signed off on Rep. Truck Gisclair’s (D-Larose) House Bill 246, which directs the state Department of Transportation and Development to transfer three parcels of land to Lafourche Parish for use as new boat launch that would be free to the public.

The parcels amount to roughly 74,885 square feet on the western side of the old Leeville Bridge, which has been replaced by the elevated portion of La. 1.

“This is something that is badly needed in the parish,” said Gisclair.

A $500,000 grant from the LDWF will help deter costs, and the Greater Lafourche Port Commission has offered financial support as well.

Licenses

Still pending approval from the governor is House Bill 593 by Rep. Rogers Pope (R-Denham Springs) that would allow non-resident students attending a Louisiana high school to get a break on the cost of a hunting license.

The current law already authorizes non-resident students enrolled full-time in any Louisiana college to obtain hunting licenses for the cost of a resident license. But Pope said non-resident high school students were never part of the provision.

If Jindal signs the bill into law, the fees would be reduced for this group as follows: duck licenses would go from $25 to $5.50; wild turkey, $25 to $5.50; basic hunting, $200 to $15; big game, $250 to $15; and primitive firearms, $50 to $10.50.

A related measure that failed during the session, House Bill 245 by Rep. Eddie Lambert (R-Gonzales) would have created a temporary pilot program to offer all non-resident recreational hunting and fishing licenses at the same cost as resident licenses. Some lawmakers feared the drop in revenue would have outweighed any new interest generated in the Sportsman’s Paradise.

Faring much better with the governor’s signature was House Bill 378 by House Speaker Pro Tem Walt Leger (D-New Orleans) that increases the fees for certain charter boat fishing licenses. Those recreational fishing licenses needed by captains to take out clients who do not possess a state fishing license is being increased from $5 to $10.

Additionally, out-of-state charter licenses are being increased by $500.

Revenue generated will be used in marketing and promotion efforts overseen by the Louisiana Charter Boat Association, said the group’s president Daryl Carpenter. He said recent hurricanes and the BP oil spill “dealt a blow to the coast,” but that marketing always helped push operations closer to normal.

According to an analysis performed by the Legislative Fiscal Office, the measure will raise about $1 million over the next five years for the charter group.

Hunters for the Hungry
Hunters for the Hungry generated controversy in February when state health officials, citing safety concerns and certain bans against game, destroyed more than 1,600 pounds of venison destined for food banks and homeless shelters.

Senate Bill 84 by Sen. Neil Riser (R-Columbia) could help raise money for the group’s cause. His legislation allows individuals who purchase fishing and hunting licenses to have the option of making a donation to Hunters for the Hungry at the time of purchasing their license. The money would be held in a special dedicated account.

The new law states that “no more than 5 percent of the monies in the account may be used for administrative costs, and the remaining 95 percent must be used solely by Hunters for the Hungry for the processing and delivery of meats by not-for-profit or charitable organizations.”

To avoid the destruction of game in the future, Senate Bill 58 by Sen. Sherri Smith Buffington (R-Keithville) allows certain meats and fish to be received or used by nonprofits and charities.

Giant salvinia
It takes a lot sometimes to pass a budget. That much was made clear by a last-minute $200,000 addition to the state budget to lease, use and research something called the “Water Mower.”

The budget amendment, just one part of what helped bring the differing factions of the House together on the spending plan, came courtesy of Rep. Patrick Williams (D-Shreveport).

“Working with the speaker and everyone else, I really thought this was an important issue for the entire state,” Williams said.

The Water Mower, created by inventor John Bourque, was pitched to lawmakers this session by Williams as a possible solution to giant salvinia, an aquatic weed that is choking many Louisiana waterways. It’s a problem in other states as well and cuts off nutrients and oxygen to freshwater fish.

Williams said he was unsure what area of the state would benefit most from the Mower money, but added it would be used in conjunction with ongoing efforts, like the spraying of special herbicides.

Wildlife and Fisheries Commission

Jindal has signed into law legislation that would guarantee seats on the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission for representatives from North Louisiana, but only if voters pass a related constitutional amendment next year.

House Bill 503 by Rep. James Armes (D-Leesville) targets the membership of Wildlife and Fisheries Commission would ensure North Louisiana parishes are afforded the opportunity to have residents appointed to the commission, Armes said.

It’s a debate that has been brewing over the past several years, with North Louisiana interests complaining that the commission is dominated by coastal representatives. While sitting commission chairman Ronnie Graham of Ruston is from North Louisiana, he also is the only member who lives north of Eunice.

Under current law, the commission’s seven members are appointed solely by the governor and three must be residents of coastal parishes, as well as representatives of the commercial fishing and fur industries. Another four are selected from the state at-large, and they can’t have any ties to commercial fishing or fur.

Armes’ law would require that two of the at-large seats be filled with residents from northern parishes.

The legislation signed by Jindal, however, will only place the provision in law if voters approve a related constitutional amendment that will appear on the Nov. 4, 2014, ballot.

The constitutional amendment was part of Armes’ House Bill 426, which was approved overwhelmingly by the Legislature this session and doesn’t require the governor’s approval.

The two bills are companion measures; one cannot effectuate changes in the law without the other.

The ballot language, which refers to the line of demarcation agreed to by lawmakers, will read: “Do you support an amendment to require that two members of the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission be electors from parishes located north of the parishes of Beauregard, Allen, Evangeline, Avoyelles and Pointe Coupee?”

Freshwater fishing
Advanced this session was Senate Concurrent Resolution 22 by Sen. Gerald Long (R-Winnfield) which asks the Louisiana High School Athletic Association to establish competitive bass fishing tournaments for Louisiana’s high schools.

Long said bass fishing is “as part of Louisiana’s culture as is football and as much a pastime of Louisianians as is baseball.”

He added that interest is peaking, as evidenced by the Bass Federation’s Louisiana chapter hosting a tournament at Caddo Lake that attracted 40 teams representing 20 LHSAA member teams. The Association of Louisiana Bass Clubs also unanimously approved earlier this year a junior division to help attract high school participants.

In other states, high school athletic associations in Illinois, Kentucky, New Hampshire and South Carolina already sanction bass fishing as a championship sport.

Crappie fishing was the the focus of House Bill 719 by Rep.  Frankie Howard (R-Many), and is awaiting approval by the governor.

It creates a new possession limit of 100 fish for crappie caught in Toledo Bend Reservoir and in Lake D’Arbonne. The proposed law also allows a small exception for the possession of filets on the water, but only 2 pounds per person, and they must be used in conjunction with cooking on the vessel.

Water management
Two bills that would have provided new revenue streams for managing a pair of popular water bodies were rejected this session.

House Bill 32 by Rep. Major Thibaut (D-New Roads) would have dedicated a portion of mineral income from False River to operations, management and improvements on the oxbow lake, including aquatic weed management. Additionally, House Bill 413 by Rep. Gene Reynolds (D-Minden) would have dedicated the same kind of mineral revenues — basically oil and gas — from in and around Lake Bistineau to the operation and management of that lake.

Hunting
Defeated at the hands of it own author, who withdrew the legislation before a floor vote could be taken, House Bill 215 by Rep. Bob Hensgens (R-Abbeville) would have prohibited hunting deer while either the animal is swimming or the hunter is in a vessel or boat.

Bowing to pressure from law enforcement officials and the calls they would have been asked to investigate in the dark, lawmakers rejected House Bill 502 by Rep. Richard Burford (R-Stonewall) that would have allowed night hunting of nuisance animals year-round on private property.

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