Key bills likely to die on vine


Harrisburg — With just a few days left in the legislative session as this issue went to press, it looked like none of the nine bills affecting hunters and fishermen had a strong chance of being approved and becoming law.

The state House and Senate ended deliberations and voting Oct. 25 with a flurry of activity, passing many pieces of legislation, but none directly pertaining to sportsmen. Both chambers will briefly reconvene after the election – with the House back in session Nov. 14-15 and the Senate back in session Nov. 16 – so there is no way of knowing if any of the bills in question might receive last-minute attention.

But John Kline, government affairs director for the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, who acts as a lobbyist and legislative liaison for the group, suggested on Oct. 25 that none of the bills may pass. “Everybody has a crystal ball and I don’t know that mine is any better than anyone else’s, but with two session days left in one chamber and one in the other, they may not move.”

Perhaps the legislation of most interest to sportsmen are SB 1166 and SB 1168, which originally were authorizations to allow the Game Commission and Fish & Boat Commission to raise hunting and fishing license fees without legislative approval.

“These are not license fee increase bills, these are bills that would change the way the agencies are funded. And that was one of the problems right out of the gate,” Kline said.

“These bills sailed through the Senate and passed a House committee, and both of those bills are on second consideration on the House floor. But it is very unlikely that they will move. In fact, you can just about take it to the bank they are not going to move, and that’s because there is just not enough support in the House to move them and leadership is not going to let them.”

A combination of factors doomed the bills, Kline noted. First was a reluctance on the part of some lawmakers stemming from their view they would be giving up power and oversight over the commissions. Second, was the looming audit of the Game Commission scheduled to begin in January 2017. Third was dozens of amendments tacked onto the bills by opponents, and fourth was simply not wanting to take controversial action near the election.

Other bills in question:

– HB 2081, which would allow use of airbows in firearms seasons, introduced by Rep. Marc Gergely, D-Allegheny. Kline did not expect it to move and expects that it will be reintroduced next session.

– HB 263, which would allow the use of air rifles for hunting, introduced by Rep. Matt Gabler, R-Clearfield, Elk. That bill is in the Senate and it is on final consideration, Kline pointed out, so there is a possibility that it might be passed. The bill simply removes the prohibition against using air-powered rifles for hunting and it places use of those devices, which is legal in most states, under the direction of the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

– SB 737, which would allow semi-autos for hunting, introduced by Sen. Scott Hutchinson, a Republican serving parts of five counties in the northwest. That bill is in the House, and it’s under second consideration. “There is a possibility that this one will move, the NRA is actively working it and we supported it strongly,” Kline said. “I don’t know – if I were going to handicap the bill today, I would say it’s not going to move.

He pointed out that it started as a bill that would allow the use of semi-automatic rifles to hunt certain species, and it was amended to simply remove the prohibition on the use of semi-autos for hunting.

“The Federation supports it because, as I testified in a hearing months ago, my analogy was, the Legislature does not tell the Fish & Boat Commission which kinds of rods and reels that anglers use – those are tools. It is up to commission. Semi-autos are tools that are used by hunters in virtually every other state, including California and Hawaii, and we don’t do it here in Pennsylvania, so let the commission make a decision. That’s our logic. But I still don’t see the bill moving.”

– House Bill 1452, which would reduce the price of licenses for hunter and trapper education instructors, prime sponsor Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-York. The bill was amended by Sen. Mario Scavello, R-Monroe, to also allow teenage mentored hunting.

“It fixes what we refer to as the doughnut hole because Pennsylvania is not offering the mentored hunter program to older teenagers, just youths and adults. It is a fix that needs to be done. That bill is on its third and final consideration in the Senate. If it passes – and it is very likely to pass, it needs to go back to the House for concurrence.”

– HB 1722, leashed tracking dogs bill, introduced by Rep. Barry Jozwiak, R-Berks. Kline noted that the federation has strongly supported the bill over the years, but it repeatedly has failed to pass.

“I think there’s been some misperception of that bill and  some people get the impression it will allow hunting with dogs when it doesn’t,” Kline said. “It is a conservation bill to track animals in virtually all cases that are dead, so that explains some of the reluctance on the part of legislators. I just don’t really expect it to pass this session.”

– HB 2083, which would take deer and habitat management away from the Game Commission and award it to a politically appointed body, introduced by Rep. Dave Maloney, R-Berks. Bill passed out of the state government committee but was not considered by the full House. It will die this session.

– HB 2013, which would allow development in state parks, introduced by Rep. Brian Ellis, R-Butler. It was defeated several months ago but is rumored to be reintroduced after the election.

“Anything is possible but I don’t see that one being pushed through before the end of the session,” Kline said. Although look for it to be reintroduced next session. Really, any of these bills that die on the vine could be back – look for them in the spring.”

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