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House backs hunting, fishing license fee hikes on second try

May 18, 2021 GMT

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — After two votes and a slew of rewrites, a wide-ranging effort to restructure Louisiana’s hunting and fishing licenses and boost fees charged on recreational and commercial license-holders won backing from the state House on Tuesday.

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is pushing the measure by Republican Rep. Tony Bacala to help raise millions more annually for the agency and fill some of its budget gaps. The proposal was initially estimated to raise more than $20 million a year, according to a nonpartisan financial analysis. But lawmakers made several changes on the House floor that would lessen the money raised.

The House initially voted 68-28 for the bill, but it needed 70 votes to pass. Fee increases require a two-thirds vote in the 105-member chamber. After Bacala agreed to a series of amendments that stripped out some fee hikes and lengthened the phase-in period for the changes, the chamber reversed course and approved the bill in a 79-20 vote. It heads next to the Senate for debate.

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“It’s still a very good bill, and we’re trying to continue to have Wildlife and Fisheries fully funded without having to battle every year,” he said after the second vote.

Bacala, of Prairieville, said the effort would help keep the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries as a “user-pay system,” rather than a system financed with general tax dollars paid by people who don’t hunt or fish.

Opponents expressed concerns about the price hikes.

Rep. Gabe Firment, a Republican from Pollock, objected to raising the cost for a lifetime hunting and fishing license for residents to $1,000. The combination lifetime hunting and fishing license is currently $500, or $300 each for a lifetime hunting license or a lifetime fishing license.

“It seems like a pretty dramatic increase in the lifetime license,” Firment said. “I can tell you there’s not going to be many people in my district (who) can afford that at $1,000.”

Bacala agreed to strip the increased cost for the lifetime hunting and fishing license from the bill.

Rep. Beryl Amedee, a Houma Republican, opposed the fee hikes on commercial fishermen, saying that would worsen problems attracting younger people to a profession where she said the average age is 54.

“The industry’s been in a downward spiral since 1985,” Amedee said.

Bacala said the department tried to address as many concerns from industry as possible, “short of killing the bill.” He also noted the license fees haven’t been raised for decades.

“Commercial fishermen’s rates were last set in 1986, which is probably before a few of y’all were even born,” he said.

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Lawmakers removed license increases for commercial shrimpers and for the wild crawfish industry from the measure. Bacala stretched out the remaining fee hikes so half the increases would start on June 1, 2022, and the remaining half would start on June 1, 2024.

Department Secretary Jack Montoucet proposed a smaller license restructuring two years ago to consolidate licenses, reduce the types of permits and increase some costs, but the House rejected it.

Since then, the agency’s financial problems have worsened.

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries relies on the Conservation Fund as one of its primary sources of financing. But collections for the fund have continued to fall annually since the 2015-16 budget year. The agency says revenue from oil and gas drilling in wildlife management areas is declining, and the state is seeing fewer dollars each year from licensing fees as more people buy lifetime hunting and fishing licenses.

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The bill is filed as House Bill 691.

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Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte.