Week pares down three bills to one remaining provision
by KELLY BOSTIAN
For the CCOF
Oklahomans with a 2021 hunting or fishing license could see that license extended to 365 days from the date of purchase rather than expiring on Dec. 31 if a bill stands as passed by the Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday.
Odds may be against it, however.
After failed compromise, only one line out of a trio of Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation related bills remains alive. The Wildlife Department likely won’t get the authority to commence its long awaited overhaul of the hunting and fishing license system, but it won’t face delays in obtaining any additional properties for public hunting and fishing areas, either.
Senate Bills 774 and 776, by Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, are dormant for the remainder of this legislative session. Initially pitched as “a compromise where no one is happy” by Felt, they dropped off the active list this week with a deadline for bills to be heard on the floor of the chamber opposite of their origin.
SB774 established some funding changes and gave license structure and fee setting abilities to the Wildlife Department. The main provision of SB776 was a demand that any purchase of lands by the department be delayed to allow for six months of advertising to other potential buyers.
The dormant bills could come back in the next session, in February 2022.
HB2214, by Reps. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow and Ty Burns, R-Pawnee, remains active. But what began as a combination of the two senate bills with Murdock as Senate author was stripped down Thursday to a House Floor amendment with only one remaining provision; creation of a 365-day license.
“With it passing as an emergency measure it would go into effect this year. It would be a little messy the way it is written right now,” said Corey Jager, legislative liaison for the Wildlife Department. “We support the move to a 365-day license but would approach it from a different angel.”
The bill does not address a price for the 365-day option and does not address two other statutes, one that set the annual hunting and fishing license options at one set of rates, and one that set the fiscal-year licenses at another price, she said.
The bill still could be amended in a Conference Committee or floor processes this spring. It will need to pass another floor vote before going to the governor.
Jager said the Wildlife Department plans to continue to work with legislators on any possibilities this session and also will keep an eye forward, toward next year’s session. She is always optimistic, she said.
“If we don’t get (licensing authority changes) through this session there probably will be more public effort to gain support and bring it back because we really think this is the right direction to go,” she said. “Our goal is simplifying the system and making it better.”
The department hired outdoors industry economics experts to review the state’s licensing system to suggest improvements for future ease of use and profitability. Dozens of license options make the lineup confusing and some license prices languish where they were set 15 years ago.
“We’ve been needing to update the way we do hunting and fishing licenses for 10 years and we did the study three years ago,” Jager said. “If we need to wait again it is just more time that we’re not seeing a cleanup of the licensing system.”
An attempt to reach Sen. Murdock for comment Friday was not successful.
One other wildlife-related bill, HB 1112, which creates a year-round squirrel hunting season for falconers and updates furbearer regulations, passed with emergency status and already was signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt this session.
Wildlife Department staff is working on temporary rule changes to put that measure to work when it takes effect on Nov. 1, Jager said.
Another bill, SB770, which re-authorizes the voluntary tax check-off option to help wildlife through state tax returns, passed the House this week and is on its way to the governor.
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