By SHANE BEVEL
Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma Board Member
The Oklahoma House of Representatives Wildlife Committee passed amendments last week that made a joke of a perfectly wise and responsible request made by the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation this legislative session.
In doing so it showed precisely why the department, a non-appropriated agency that has no fiscal impact on state spending, should be allowed to do its job as requested in Senate Bill 774, a bill that should be returned to its original form and passed.
Strike the foolish amendments, please.
The Wildlife Department asked nationally recognized economists with expertise in the outdoors industry to study our situation and provide guidance to better serve Oklahomans.
On the Senate Floor the bill’s author, Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, reluctantly asked his colleagues to allow him to take bill to the House and make amendments. It was hard, he said, because he “hates agencies.” And he meant it.
The Wildlife Department wants to better serve its customers while raising more revenue for wildlife conservation, to run more like a business.
But Murdock and House author Rep. Kevin McDugle, R-Broken Arrow, came up with an amendment that creates a new (likely unconstitutional) process for any proposed license increases unless they are “no greater than the most recent annual percentage change in the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) for the South Region statistical area for all items and goods.”
So much for the idea of simplifying state statutes and cutting red tape; they chose instead an arbitrary threshold that averages about 1.2 %.
Instead of a system based on good business practice, the committee voted for a last-minute bureaucratic nightmare that would encourage a 30-cent annual increase to the $25 annual fishing license.
The Wildlife Department asked to create a license system people can easily understand. Legislators have continually manufactured new license “needs” and amassed a daunting catalog of options over the years.
Following that tradition the committee ironically amended a bill that gives licensing authority to the department to create—you guessed it—two more hunting license categories for non-residents.
If the Wildlife Department created those licenses through it’s system, they would have been subject to debate and outreach among department staff and stakeholders, a mandatory public comment period, passage by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission, review by the legislature’s Administrative Rules process and signature of the governor.
Instead the Wildlife Committee, a body that has repeatedly displayed ignorance of and disdain for the department this session, created these new licenses apparently on a whim.
This is precisely why SB774 must be amended back to its original format and passed.
This legislature needs to recognize its shortcomings and serve the people of Oklahoma with effective oversight, not meddling with a successful, non-appropriated agency trying to run itself like a business.