Wildlife licensing bill survives as substitute

SB774 remains ‘a work in progress’ author says

Photo courtesy of Shane Bevel

By KELLY BOSTIAN
For the CCOF

A bill that would allow the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to structure licenses and set fees for hunting and fishing seasons got a somewhat unusual pass from the Oklahoma State Senate Thursday.

Rather than present his Senate Bill 774, author Casey Murdock, R-Felt, offered up a floor substitute with a stricken title and asked for a chance to work on the bill in a meeting set for Monday. The senator said the meeting would include Wildlife Department officials with the chairman of the House Wildlife Committee and encouraged senators to attend.

The floor substitute summary notes an added requirement that the Wildlife Department provide “an annual report to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Speaker of the House, and Governor detailing the license types issued and the revenue derived from such licenses. “

Murdock’s “work in progress” survived the challenge with a 39-7 vote in favor of letting work continue. Although the bill itself did not pass, the action met a key legislative deadline Thursday and that allows it to survive for further consideration.

Clearly stating he is uncomfortable with the general idea of handing over licensing and fee-setting authority to any agency, Murdock nonetheless said he had set up the additional meeting for leadership “to come together and get the best solution I can out of it.”

Upon questioning he noted that the Wildlife Department had hired a firm to do a six-month study on how the state can better handle hunting and fishing licensing and that he had introduced the bill on the department’s behalf.

Murdoch also has authored SB776 and co-authored House Bill 2214 this session. Those bills have been tied to the licensing provision in what he has called a difficult compromise for all sides.

He has long objected to the Wildlife Department purchasing more public lands and his SB776 forces a six-month advertising period before the department can purchase most properties. It passed the Senate without discussion last week. HB2214 ties the licensing provisions and lands purchase restrictions together in one bill. It passed the House on Wednesday.

Currently most hunting and fishing license fees are set in Title 29 statute and adjusted most often through bills filed at the request of the Wildlife Department.

The majority of hunting and fishing regulations are set in Title 800 and created through a public process involving the seven-member Wildlife Conservation Commission. The Commission forwards proposed rule changes to the legislature’s administrative rules process, which typically results in an omnibus bill that includes Title 800 requests for all state agencies.

Legislators typically vote in favor of the omnibus bill—which might exclude a few select proposals the Rules Committee rejects. The governor’s office then has a final say.

SB774 would strike existing licenses and fees from Title 29 statute and instead put them into the Title 800 rulemaking process.

Moments before Murdock presented his bill the Senate passed SB913, which would update the legislature’s administrative rules procedures in several ways, including creation of a year-round review process by a bicameral a committee, and breaking up the omnibus bill.

He was asked on the Senate Floor if that bill’s updates would strengthen legislative oversight of the Wildlife Department’s proposed licensing process and he agreed that it would.

Wildlife officials have noted that some license fees have not been updated for more than 15 years and that its study recommends a market-driven approach to keep up with other states, a user-friendly system, and one that allows use of promotions and discounts to increase sales and help encourage more people to go outdoors—which means more money for department operations.

It would also allow hunters and anglers to buy a 365-day annual license. Currently all are “annual licenses” but they expire on December 31 even if they were purchased weeks earlier at the annual price, Murdock said.

Southwick Associates, a Florida-based market research, statistics and economics firm that specializes in outdoors markets and has advised numerous state and federal agencies, completed the study for the department in 2018.

An earlier version of the licensing bill passed the House in the spring of 2020 but did not advance because the session was abbreviated due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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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