Wildlife bills amended, face Thursday deadline

Bills that hunters, anglers need to know, SB774, SB776 and HB2214, will have to return to houses of origin

The Oklahoma State Capitol. (KJBOutdoors photo)

BY KELLY BOSTIAN
For the CCOF

Three legislative bills of prime interest to Oklahoma’s hunters and anglers are up against another deadline this week and appear to be in limbo—at least for now.

All three bills will have to be heard on either the House or the Senate floors by Thursday to survive. All recently were amended in the committee process and will have to return for approval in their houses of origin. Each could see even more amendments as well, according to legislative watchdogs.

Senate Bills 774 and 776 and House Bill 2214, met opposite-house committee deadlines April 8 and must be read on the House or Senate floors no later than Thursday’s “third reading in opposite house deadline,” which is the last deadline point for legislation before expected adjournment on May 28.

“With these three bills it is a little bit complicated for people to follow at this point,” said Corey Jager, legislative liaison with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation. “This is a time during the session when a lot of things are moving and you just have to watch and see what makes it on the calendar. You can see a lot of changes, in any bill not just these, and they might come up on the calendar with short notice.”

The main themes of the senate bills remain the same. SB774, by Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, seeks a shift in licensing structure and fee setting from the legislature to the Wildlife Department and Wildlife Conservation Commission. SB776, also by Murdock, would require a delay of six months with mandatory public advertisement of any land sale intended for to the Wildlife Department.

HB2214, by Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow and Murdock, currently has its title stricken, which generally means the author is working on changes. So far, the change is away from the original bill that combined SB774 and SB776 toward one that mirrors SB776.

It still contains language that allows the Wildlife Department to dedicate licensing fees, or portions thereof, to a Wildlife Lands Acquisition Fund so money can be used to help maintain county roads and for fence maintenance and marking. However, previous language that would have turned over licensing structure and fee-setting to the department is eliminated.

It does contain the same key limitation on lands purchases as SB776, which also is in a “title stricken” status.
Both bills limit department land purchases to take place “only after the land has been publicly offered for sale at fair-market value by erecting signage on the property indicating the property is for sale and causing public notice of the offer of sale by publishing weekly in a newspaper of general circulation of the county in which the property to be sold is situated for a minimum of six months.”

There is an exception to the 6-month rule for properties that are already surrounded by department lands.

A new amendment would also exempt landowners who might sell to the department via public auction, but Jager said the new public-auction option is irrelevant.

“The department does not go to auction,” she said.

The Wildlife Department-requested licensing change through SB774 was amended and its title restored by the House Wildlife Committee, but it was amended to create a complicated new approval process for any proposed license price increase above an annual regional Consumer Price Index level.

Jager said department officials “can live with” the bill as amended and still support the bill. The index cited averages about 1.2% annually, an amount that would be equal to just pennies on several licenses, Jager said. She did not know how the price limitation might apply to licenses that are revamped or combined under a new, simplified, license lineup the department intends to create.

Several committee members questioned whether the amendment was constitutional because it forces approval of licenses proposed above that index by the legislative committee and the Senate—in addition to the existing Administrative Rules processes. Regardless, they passed the amendment to allow the bill possible further amendments moving forward.

Kelly Bostian is a conservation communications professional working with the Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to education and outreach on conservation issues facing Oklahomans. To support Kelly’s work please consider making a tax deductible donation at https://www.oklahomaconservation.org

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