Wednesday, March 17, 2010
Bill Cochran's Outdoors: A sportsman's look at the Virginia General Assembly
Bill Cochran's Outdoors
- Virginia’s hunting totals produce mixed results
- A good trade: Virginia trout for Kentucky elk
- Forget the odds-makers; Salem’s John Crews believes he can win the Bassmaster Classic.
- The good and bad of the 2012 saltwater fishing season
- Column archive
Bill's Field Reports
- Virginia General Assembly goes soft on outdoor issues
- Quail Unlimited calls it quits
- Field reports archive
The 2010 Virginia General Assembly could be remembered by outdoor sportsmen more for what didn’t happen than what did.
For example, it was the first time in years that a Sunday hunting bill of some sort was not introduced. That issue came up in Maryland and Connecticut, but not Virginia.
And there was no legislation to establish a bear hunting license. Last year, when the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries rejected a proposal by hound hunters to remove the bear tag from the big game license and create a separate bear license, angry bear hunters vowed they’d take the issue to the General Assembly.
The DGIF carried that banner to the 2010 assembly, but was unable to advance its proposal to separate the bear, deer and turkey licenses. Nor was there any movement on an elk hunting license that the agency said it would go after as part of its Elk Management Plan.
Here is a quick look at legislation of importance to outdoorsmen, along with some personal comments.
MOST SIGNIFICANT BILL: Virginia saltwater anglers have escaped having to pay as much as $25 annually to be included in a federally mandated angler registry. The General Assembly passed legislation that will allow Virginia to collect information for the federal registry when a state license is purchased. Non-licensed fishermen can register by phone at no cost to them.
The current license exemptions have been preserved, including the popular boat license that covers everyone on a licensed vessel.
It is not without cost. The legislation will boost the price of a boat license from $38 to $48, which remains a good deal.
Earlier, it was reported incorrectly here and elsewhere that the Senate Bill would increase individual license fees by $5, but the Virginia Marine Resources Commission already has authority to increase license fees by up to $5 every three years.
Look for the agency to enact that increase in time for next year. VMRC estimates that the registry will cost it $650,000 annually, money it says it does not have. The agency’s general fund budget has been cut 30 percent the past two years. Some funds have been diverted to law enforcement. Anglers will have to guard any new money to make certain it isn’t ciphered off for non-related programs.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Legislation that would have turned the management of menhaden over o the scientists of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission was defeated. The management of this species, which is a vital food source for striped bass and many other sport fish, will remain with the General Assembly. Anyone with a brain knows that lawmakers have neither the time nor knowledge to manage a fishery.
Credit the powerful menhaden commercial fishery with this defeat. It prefers politics over science. On the positive side, advocates of the legislation say they learned some things this session that will be beneficial in future fights, which are sure to come as concern over the well-being of this species continues to mount.
CAMOUFLAGE DIAPERS: Editorial writers and satirists poked fun at a bill sponsored by DGIF to establish a lifetime hunting and fishing license for youngsters age 2 and younger. The measure passed, and now DGIF is laughing all the way to the bank.
The license gives dads, granddads, uncles and others who cherish hunting and fishing the opportunity to symbolically pass these traditions to a new family member for $125 for residents and $250 for non-residents. That is a good price to lock into when you consider how much licenses are destined to cost in the future.
But there is more to this than just a fuzzy feeling. The DGIF stands to benefit because the federal funds it receives are based on the number of license holders in Virginia.
THE BIG GIVE-AWAY: Every General Assembly session some generous legislator gets the idea of giving away fishing and hunting licenses. It doesn’t cost the legislator anything but it sure does cost the DGIF, an agency financed through license fees and federal funds that are rationed according to how many licenses the state sells.
This time, Sen. John Watkins, R-Midlothian, is Santa. He introduced successful legislation that exempts resident active duty military personnel form buying a fishing license.
While that may sound like a patriotic move, Virginia has a bunch of military personnel. The revenue lost to DGIF could be substantial, to the point it could cut into programs that impact all anglers, including active duty military personnel.
More laudable was a successful bill that gives a free fishing license to disabled active duty military personnel who are receiving inpatient or outpatient medical treatment from a veterans or military hospital. It is difficult to argue against this one.
NO BUCKLE-UP FOR LITTLE BOATERS: Every year, a bill is introduced to require children 12 and under to wear a life jacket during most boating activities. Every year it fails, and this time was no exception. For the U.S. Coast Guard, the issue isn’t iffy. Federal law requires a life jacket for youngsters. So the enforcement of the law on some Virginia water is going to depend on what uniform the officer is wearing. Law or not, it makes good sense for kids to wear a jacket. Adults, too. And federal/state boating laws need to be uniform.
GOOD BILLS THAT PASSED:
- Sportsmen will be able to contribute more than $2 to Hunters for the Hungry when they purchase their hunting license. The current limit is $2 per license transaction. The problem is, few license buyers bother to contribute even $2, so adding a higher limit isn’t likely to make much difference. This worthy program needs all the money it can get.
- If you kill a bear on a kill permit, your bragging rights are going to be less. No longer will you be able to legally mount or display it, only eat it. After all, you haven’t done anything to brag about.
- If an anti-hunter places illegal bait near where you hunt in an effort to entrap you, it could backfire under a new law that makes it a misdemeanor to place bait or salt in places utilized by hunters.
- You can collect shed antlers without fear of breaking the law.
- Local school boards can offer firearm safety education in elementary grades, with special emphasis on an early start to accident prevention.