Burns knows hunting fee proposal a tough sell

SHERIDAN — In the 2014 legislative session, Sen. Bruce Burns, R-Sheridan, will be pushing for an increase in Game and Fish hunting license fees and an increase in snowmobile permit fees along with a couple other bills that came out of the interim Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee.

Burns is chairman of the committee.

Burns also has three possible individual bills he would like to bring to the floor, which is the maximum allowed.

These include setting up a system to allow certain convicted felons to have their record expunged; changing the alternative form of execution in Wyoming from gas chamber to firing squad; and eliminating Wyoming’s superintendent of public instruction position.

Increasing hunting license fees is always a controversial subject, Burns said.

“That’s the first thing I noticed when I was a freshman in the House in 1995. Any time there was a hunting or Game and Fish issue that came up, the line was six deep at every podium, to speak,” Burns said.

However, he said fee increases are necessary to keep the Game and Fish Department viable since it has been absorbing increased duties and increased costs for health care and pension plans without significant budget increases since 2008 when the last fee increase was approved and 2009 when the last salary increase was passed.

“Game and Fish only makes a profit in three areas: antelope, deer and elk. They lose money in every other aspect of their operation,” Burns said.

 

The 2012 interim Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee approved fee increases for Game and Fish, Burns said, but the new Legislature elected for the 2013 session voted the fee increase down, along with most of the other interim committee bills.

The proposed increase is approximately 10 percent, ranging from $5-$50, according to a draft of the bill posted on the Legislative website. Burns said without it programs such as bird farms and fish hatcheries may be in danger of elimination.

However, he is not hopeful about the bill passing. Since it is a revenue raising bill it must originate in the House of Representatives and get a 2/3 vote to make it to the floor, which is difficult in a House that tends to be conservative, Burns said.

Another bill that passed through the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee would increase snowmobile registration fees by $30 before June 30, 2016, and $35 after June 30, 2016, for private machines and $30-$50 for commercial machines.

The increase in fees was requested by the Wyoming State Snowmobile Association to deal with the rising costs of grooming trails for use by snowmobiles, Burns said.

The committee has also sponsored a bill that would allow state parks to use user fees for construction and maintenance projects, general operations and site interpretation such as exhibits, signage and displays. State parks are currently not allowed to use user fees for general operations or maintenance of department facilities.

The bill would hopefully increase the viability of Wyoming’s state parks, Burns said, along with another bill that would allow state parks to receive donations from ATM transactions. Donations would be optional, allowing ATM users to press a button to send a donation to a particular state park, historic site or recreation area.

Burns is also considering three individual bills to bring to the Senate in the 2014 session.

The only one currently filed would amend the statute regarding the death penalty in Wyoming to delineate the alternative form of execution as firing squad rather than gas chamber. Wyoming’s primary execution method is lethal injection.

Another bill Burns would like to bring would allow certain convicted felons to have their record expunged so they could have their citizen rights — such as voting and the ability to apply for a job without declaring as a felon — returned. Violent and sex crimes would not be considered, but felonies such as drug convictions or bouncing checks would be eligible if the person passed all the criteria, which he has not specified at this point.

“You’ve got a case where somebody did a stupid act when they were 19, and now they’re 40-something and they’re still being punished,” Burns said.

Burns has also considered proposing a bill that would eliminate the position of superintendent of public instruction because he feels it is an unnecessary office now that its duties are drastically reduced. He has not made a final determination on that bill.

About

Hannah Wiest is the government and outdoors reporter for The Sheridan Press. She has lived in Colorado and Montana but loves her sunny home state of Wyoming best. She joined The Press staff in February 2013.

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