The Minnesota Senate today passed a game and fish bill that would increase license fees for the first time in nearly 12 years, but it does not move up the start of this year's fishing season.
Monday's vote was 36-30, with bipartisan support and bipartisan opposition. Officials with the Department of Natural Resources say the $11 million generated by the fee increases is needed to keep the game and fish fund running in the black.
Hunting and fishing advocates gathered in the Capitol Rotunda ahead of the Senate vote to demonstrate their support for the bill, as well as its increased fees for hunting, fishing and trapping. Professional angler Al Lindner told the crowd that the increases are necessary and long overdue.
"This isn't a tax. This is a user fee. And to those who are in powerful positions, how many people do you have who are willing to reach in their pocket and say, 'I want to give you money,'" Lindner said. "Here, we want to give you the money to make sure that our fishing and hunting and our woods and waters stay good. Here, here's the money. We want to give it to you."
The Senate rejected the proposed increases last week, forcing Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, to table the entire game and fish bill.
Ingebrigtsen, who chairs the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, brought the bill back for a second try after trying to ease some of the concerns raised by opponents. He removed a provision to eliminate conservation fishing licenses. Ingebrigtsen said he thought lawmakers on both sides of the aisle could now be able to support the bill.
"When you go out to the lake and there are 10 boats out there, I don't think you're going to be able to distinguish the difference between Republican or Democrat or independent for that matter," Ingebrigtsen said. "We all enjoy it. We all work together. Passing legislation like this has always been historically bipartisan."
But Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, who helped trip up the bill last week, wanted more changes. He successfully changed the bill to direct a portion of the new fee revenue to the permanent school trust fund and another portion to wolf management programs. With wolves no longer an endangered species, Bakk said the state is now responsible for managing wolves.
"In agriculture areas [wolves are] a real problem, and farmers are concerned about whether they're going to get reimbursed if they have cattle taken," Bakk said. "Because there are no longer going to be federal trappers that are out trapping timberwolves."
The bill establishes a new wolf hunting season in Minnesota. An attempt to delay that hunt by five years failed. Lawmakers also turned back a well-publicized effort to move up the start of this year's fishing season by one week. Bakk made that proposal several weeks ago when the weather was unseasonably warm. He withdrew the amendment in the face of growing opposition.
Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd said the change would cause problems.
"I do have a lot of large resorts and a lot of small resorts in my area. None of the resorts said they wanted it. Some of the larger ones were neutral because they're year-round," Gazelka said. "But the smaller reports were very much against this."
Gazelka successfully amended the bill with a provision to allow for the continued sale of hunting and fishing licenses during future state government shutdowns.
The Minnesota House passed its game and fish bill earlier this month. The House version includes the earlier fishing season start, but does not raise any fees.
Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings told the sportsmen gathered at the rally Monday that he and other key lawmakers would support those fees in conference committee negotiations.