Senate Passes Historic Great American Outdoors Act on an Impressive Vote
On June 17, the U.S. Senate passed the historic Great American Outdoors Act (S. 3422), which represents the single greatest commitment to increasing public access and advancing conservation in a lifetime, on a strong bipartisan vote of 73-25.
The Great American Outdoors Act will provide $9.5 billion over 5 years to address the crumbling infrastructure on America’s public lands and waters. While the National Park Service will receive $6.5 billion in funding, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) led a successful effort to secure the inclusion of $3 billion to repair and maintain public land infrastructure overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and U.S. Forest Service (USFS), which provides critically important recreational opportunities for America’s sportsmen and women
“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation applauds Senate passage of the Great American Outdoors Act. Today’s vote demonstrates the bipartisan support for advancing conservation and increasing access for hunters and anglers,” said CSF President Jeff Crane. “When signed into law, this bill will provide much needed support for public lands and waters and boost the already formidable outdoor economy. CSF extends our sincere thanks to the Senate Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) members that voted to support these priorities.”
The inclusion of funding specifically for BLM, USFWS, and USFS lands and waters will ensure that Americans have the ability to access critically important hunting, fishing, and recreational shooting opportunities. Over 246 million acres, or 99%, of BLM lands are open to hunting and fishing while the USFS reports that 99% of the 193 million acres it administers are open to hunting and at least 99% of USFS administered rivers, streams, and lakes are open to fishing. Collectively, BLM, USFWS, and USFS annually support more than 25 million hunting days and nearly 45 million fishing days, highlighting the importance of these lands for America’s sportsmen and women as well as the outdoor economy. Additionally, funding for maintenance backlog will create over 100,000 employment opportunities.
The Great American Outdoors Act also provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) at $900 million annually. LWCF is one of the most successful and influential conservation programs in our nation’s history. As a testament to the impact of LWCF, the program has completed a conservation, recreation, or access project in every single county in the country. S. 3422 also secures $15 million annually to increase public access for hunting, fishing, recreational shooting, and other forms of outdoor recreation.
“Years of bipartisan work have led to this moment and this historic opportunity for conservation,” said CSC Member Sen. Cory Gardner (CO). “Today the Senate passed not only the single greatest conservation achievement in generations, but also a lifeline to mountain towns and recreation communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. I call on the House of Representatives to pass this bill without delay in order to provide jobs to the American people, economic stimulus to communities in need, and protections for the great American outdoors for future generations of Americans to cherish.”
“I’m proud to have worked closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass this historic conservation bill. Full and permanent funding for the LWCF is critical so our land management agencies can continue their legacy of conservation and growing opportunities for outdoor recreation. Addressing the daunting deferred maintenance needs in our national parks is long overdue and will ensure all of our public land management agencies can operate fully to maintain and protect the public lands we all cherish. In the Mountain State, we have a rich history and at the center of it is our love and appreciation for the outdoor playground we have been blessed with. The Great American Outdoors Act will guarantee the wild and wonderful corners of West Virginia are protected for generations to come,” said CSC Vice-Chair Sen. Joe Manchin (WV). “I’ve seen firsthand the jobs that the outdoor recreation economy has brought to all areas of West Virginia. At a time of historic unemployment, there is simply no better time than now to pass this much needed legislation. This is a historic achievement for conservation and a testament to the strong, bipartisan work that is still possible when we put politics aside to do what is best for our country.”
The Great American Outdoors Act heads to the House for further consideration. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation strongly encourages sportsmen and women to contact their representatives in the House to urge quick passage of this long overdue legislation as-is without any changes by calling 202-224-3121.
Florida: Outdoor Sporting Goods Tax Holiday (SB 1310)
CSC member Senator Debbie Mayfield sponsored Senate Bill 1310 which would have established a sales tax holiday for outdoor sporting goods. Specifically, the legislation would exempt the sale of firearms, ammunition, and fishing tackle from sales tax on September 5, 2020. The sales tax waiver would benefit conservation programs in the state via the American System of Conservation Funding by incentivizing the purchase of items that are subject to federal excise taxes. The bill was indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration from the Senate Committee on Appropriations on March 14.
Indiana: Sportsmen’s Package (HB 1385)
This bill includes several big wins for Indiana’s sportsmen and women. These wins included the removal of the 2020 sunset on the use of high-powered rifles on private lands. After an extensive study, it was found that the use of high-powered rifles on private land did not have a negative effect on public safety or the deer population. The package also included language that would increase the maximum length of a hunting or fishing license suspension, bringing Indiana more in line with other states when it comes to punishments for wildlife violators. The bill also included language pertaining to access of the Lake Michigan shoreline. It states the shoreline is held in public trust and may be used for walking, fishing, boating, swimming, and any other recreational purpose for which Lake Michigan is ordinarily used, as recognized by the Natural Resource Commission would be allowed. This bill was signed into law by the Governor on March 21.
Iowa: Invest in Iowa Act (SSB 3116 & HSB 657)
Introduced in association with Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Governor Kim Reynolds, the “Invest in Iowa Act” is a tax reform bill that would include a sales tax increase to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Created in 2010, the trust fund would use a 3/8 of 1% Conservation Sales Tax to supplement the American System of Conservation Funding. Despite enormous support from the sportsmen’s community for funding the Trust, the larger tax bills remain in their original committees and are unlikely to pass this year. However, the Trust will remain a priority for CSF and the sportsmen’s community in Iowa during the 2021 legislative session.
Iowa (HF 2502)
On June 3, members of the Iowa State Senate passed House File 2502 (HF2502), a bill that increased protections for shooting ranges, expanded Iowa’s state firearm preemption laws, and specified other powers related to firearms that are vested in a political subdivision of the state of Iowa. Specifically, HF2502 prevents county or city zoning boards from enacting and enforcing any requirement for shooting range establishment or maintenance that are more stringent than the requirements imposed by the state. Such protections prevent local governments from enforcing regulations that unfairly target recreational shooting ranges. Additionally, HF2502 expands Iowa’s existing firearm preemption language to specifically prohibit any political subdivision from enacting an ordinance, motion, resolution, policy, or amendment regulating firearms, firearms attachments, or other legally owned and possessed weapons. Finally, the bill prevents political subdivisions from regulating the storage of weapons and ammunition, though it does allow political subdivisions to restrict the possession of firearms in municipal buildings and courthouses under certain circumstances.
Iowa (SF 280)
On June 5, the Iowa State Senate concurred with amendments passed by the Iowa House of Representatives for Senate File 280 (SF280). CSF has previously reported on this bill, originally introduced last year by Iowa Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Senator Chris Cournoyer as SF215, during the Midwest’s 2020 Regional Legislative Update. SF280 amends the definition of a resident, as it relates to hunting and fishing licenses, to include members of the armed forces and their spouses, stationed in Iowa or at a military installation that is contiguous to a county in Iowa while the member is living in Iowa. This bill would ensure that all active duty military personnel and spouses living in Iowa can take advantage of resident hunting and fishing privileges.
Louisiana: Wild Game Donations (HB 35)
On May 28, HB 35, legislation that would expand the game meat donation liability exemption statute to include feral hogs in the definition of “wild game” passed the Senate 34-0 after also passing the House on an unanimous vote (98-0). Louisiana Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Speaker Clay Schexnayder sponsored the bill which now awaits action by the Governor. Game meat donation programs work with processers and hunters to provide wild game, generally venison, to food shelters and other charities that serve families in need, and HB 35 would allow feral hogs to be donated as well.
Louisiana: Charitable Organizations (HB 246)
House Bill 246, which would authorize the secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to certify a not-for-profit organization as an “organization involved in charitable hunting and fishing activities,” awaits action by the Governor as of June 3. Once an organization is certified, individuals engaged in hunting or fishing activities conducted by the organization would be exempt from license requirements during the sponsored activities.
Louisiana: Licenses for Purple Heart Recipients (HB 411)
On June 3, legislation (House Bill 411) was sent to the Governor that would allow any person who has been awarded a Purple Heart, including a nonresident, to be issued hunting and fishing licenses at the resident rate. Many states offer discounted licenses to veterans and active duty military members.
Louisiana: Firearms and Ammunition Regulation (HB 781)
On June 2, legislation that would deem firearms and ammunition businesses as essential for the purposes of operating or conducting business during a declared emergency or disaster was sent to the Governor for executive approval. House Bill 781 specifically lists firearm and ammunition manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, suppliers, retailers, and shooting ranges as essential businesses and operations for purposes of safety and security.
Louisiana: Committee Votes Down Proposed Ban on Traditional Ammunition
On June 10, the Joint Natural Resources Committee (Committee) voted (15-0) to disapprove of a regulation proposed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) that would have banned the use of lead ammunition for shotguns on Wildlife Management Area (WMAs) shooting ranges.
The proposed rule would have impacted shooting ranges on five WMAs that are equipped for skeet, trap, sporting clays or 5-stand shooting. Specifically, the proposed rule stated, “Shooting ranges: Non-toxic shot required for all shotguns.”
The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) worked with conservation partners and the Louisiana Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus to oppose the proposed regulation. National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses Executive Council Member Representative Jerome Zeringue testified in opposition to the proposed rule.
CSF also submitted a letter to the Committee opposing the proposed regulation. The letter noted that only one other WMA in the country has a similar prohibition and questioned the scientific basis for the rule change.
The letter stated, “There is no scientific evidence indicating that the use of lead shot for shotguns on WMA shooting ranges has negative population level impacts on wildlife. State fish and wildlife agencies are charged with managing wildlife at the population level, not the individual level, to ensure that management decisions are made in the best interest of conserving wildlife populations in the long run. The LDWF, however, has not provided evidence that wildlife populations have been negatively impacted, and we therefore submit that the rule proposal is not a science-based decision.”
The letter also pointed out that the proposed rule would negatively impact conservation funding for the state as well as discouraging participation in the shooting sports and hindering the recruitment of hunters and recreational shooters. Nontraditional ammunition is not as readily available for purchase and is also significantly more expensive than lead ammunition.
The Committee’s decision is now subject to review by Governor Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Governor John Bel Edwards, and CSF will be engaged in the process moving forward to ensure the interests of sportsmen and women are represented.
Michigan: Pheasant License (HB 4313)
This bill would require anyone 16-years-of-age or older to purchase a pheasant stamp. With a cost of $25.00, this stamp would be an addition to the base hunting license that Michigan requires all hunters to buy in order to hunt all other small game species. The $25.00 fee would then be divided across different funds, with 75% supporting the Michigan Pheasant Hunting Initiative and the 25% used for maintaining and expanding pheasant habitat. The Pheasant Hunting Initiative started last year when the Michigan Department of Natural Resources released pheasants at several game areas across the state and held two youth pheasant hunts in the state. This program assists with R3 efforts and encourages pheasant hunting in the State of Michigan. The creation of the pheasant stamp would ensure the program is self-funded by pheasant hunters. HB 4313 passed out of the House on March 17, and is currently in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources
Mississippi: Hunter Safety Course in School (HB 1577)
On March 5, House Bill 1577, legislation that would authorize students in grades 7-12 in public school districts to take a course in hunter safety as an elective passed the House. Sponsored by Caucus member Speaker Philip Gunn, the bill language outlines the requirements for participation in the program, the educational guidelines for the curriculum, and the qualifications to be an instructor. The school-based hunter safety course, which could take place either during the day or after school, would meet the hunter education course requirement to purchase a hunting license. These types of recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) initiatives provide students with an opportunity to become more active in the outdoors and potentially create lifelong hunters. HB 1577 currently resides in both the Senate Committee on Education and Committee on Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.
Missouri: Conservation Sales Tax Amendments (HJR 107 & HJR 112)
This year, two different bills seeking to amend and reduce Missouri’s 1/8 of 1% Conservation Sales Tax have been introduced. Currently, the Conservation Sales Tax in Missouri generates approximately $120 million annually to the Missouri Department of Conservation, serving as a large supplement to the American System of Conservation Funding and a template for other states interested in incorporating their own Conservation Sales Tax. Fortunately, HJR 107 was removed from further consideration and HJR 112 failed without consideration when the legislature adjourned.
CSF submitted written testimony in opposition of two important bills introduced in Nebraska. LB 863 would cap the amount of land owned by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, thereby limiting their ability to increase public access opportunities. LB 1173 would allow landowners to obtain no-cost hunting permits for deer, elk, and antelope. These permits could then be sold by the landowner for profit, thereby privatizing ownership of wildlife. In the letters, CSF pointed out that these bills could have negative impacts on the American System of Conservation Funding and hunter recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) efforts. Additionally, LB 1173 violates the Public Trust Doctrine of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Following their public hearings, no action is expected to be taken on either bill when the legislative session resumes on July 20 after suspending in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
New Hampshire: Fish and Game Commission Structure (HB 1571)
On February 4, CSF testified during a New Hampshire House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee hearing in opposition to HB 1571 – legislation that would have permitted animal rights groups and other anti-hunting interests to become members of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission (Commission). Per the language in the bill, the Commission would authorize “nonconsumptive recreational club” members to sit within its ranks, opening the door to obstructionist behavior on a regulatory entity with a very narrow focus on rules pertaining to the take of wildlife. CSF also submitted a letter of opposition to the Committee regarding this bill, citing the dangerous precedent that it sets. Due in large part to efforts driven by CSF, in-state, and national conservation organizations, this bill was voted “Inexpedient to Legislate” by the New Hampshire House Fish and Game and Marine Resources Committee with a result of 16-6. The bill has since been tabled by the legislature.
New York: Lead Ammunition Ban on Public Lands (A 703)
Assembly Bill 703 would prohibit the use of lead ammunition for hunting on wildlife management areas, state forests, forest preserves, state parks, or any other state-owned land that is open for hunting. As well, the provisions would extend to private property that contributes to the New York City water supply – which, given the extensive network of reservoirs and aqueducts in rural upstate New York would mean a significant amount of private property would also be affected by this ban. CSF communicated with numerous in-state and national partners on this bill as well as the Caucus Co-Chairs and members, and also distributed an action alert encouraging others in New York to contact their legislators to oppose the bill. A Senate companion bill was not introduced, and although the Assembly bill became eligible for floor consideration in late February it failed to advance to a final vote.
South Dakota: Habitat Stamp Would Generate Additional Money for Conservation (SB 75)
Co-sponsored by South Dakota Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Co-Chair Representative Herman Otten, Senate Bill 75 would create a habitat stamp that “a person eighteen years of age or older shall purchase…when applying for or purchasing a hunting or fishing license. The fee for the habitat stamp shall be ten dollars for residents and twenty-five dollars for non-residents.” This habitat stamp, although another fee on sportsmen and women, is a small price to pay for the extensive habitat work that will result from its implementation. It also emphasizes the role sportsmen and women continue to play in the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation and how the public benefits from their contributions. The bill passed both the House and Senate and was signed by the Governor on March 30.
Tennessee: Food Donations Standards (HB 2223)
On March 20, Governors Sportsmen’s Caucus member Governor Bill Lee signed legislation into law that strengthens the game meat donation liability exemption statute for venison donated through a game meat donation program by increasing the liability standard from negligence to gross negligence. The legislation also expands the liability protections to include venison donated directly to an individual for personal use. In 2019, the Tennessee Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus donated $5,000 to the Hunters for the Hungry program.
Virginia: Increased Penalties for Hunting, Angling and Trapping Violations (HB 449)
On March 12, legislation that increases the penalties for various hunting, angling and trapping violations was signed into law. Sponsored by Virginia Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Member Delegate Hyland “Buddy” Fowler, HB 449 provides that any person convicted of violating laws prohibiting hunting or fishing out of season, hunting while under the influence of alcohol or any narcotic drug, shooting from vehicles and various other wildlife related violations, may be prohibited by the court from hunting, trapping or fishing in the Commonwealth for a period of one to five years.
West Virginia: Apprentice Licenses (HB 4523)
On March 25, the Governor signed legislation that removes the limitation on the number of hunting and trapping apprentice licenses that a person may purchase. Individuals were previously prohibited from purchasing more than three hunting and trapping apprentice licenses was signed into law. Apprentice licenses support hunter recruitment efforts because they provide novice hunters the opportunity to hunt on a try-before-you-buy basis under the supervision of an experienced and licensed hunter. Caucus member Delegate Amy Summers sponsored the legislation.
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