The major issue for sportsmen and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) this session was a bill for a resident license fee increase. The last fee bill was in 2005, with a substantial jump in hunting license fees then, as the previous license fee increase was 14 years before that. Inflation during that 14-year period had significantly reduced the buying power of those established license fees. The 2005 fee bill set non-resident license fees and included a consumer price index (CPI) adjustment for future years. There was no CPI adjustment included for resident licenses. Inflation has not been as bad in the past 12 years, but still cut into the buying power of the resident license fee money to the tune of around 23 percent. Add on to that some additional costs that have been passed on to CPW, some deferred maintenance on facilities, increased responsibilities and some costs going above the rate of inflation, and it has been recognized for several years that something would have to be done to maintain the services that sportsmen expect.
A year ago in January the Colorado Bowhunters Association did a survey of their members and found that 70 percent of their members were in favor of a resident license fee increase to alleviate some of the afore mentioned problems. Other sportsmen’s organizations, such as the Colorado Wildlife Federation, also surveyed their members with similar results. We were expecting a fee bill last year, but the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy Committee asked that the CPW do additional outreach to sportsmen as well as provide a sustainability plan. Those were done over the summer and fall of 2016. Unfortunately, a change DNR staff doing legislative liaison activities slowed up the process and a fee bill was not ready until late in the 2017 session. Meanwhile, the authority of the Parks and Wildlife Commission (PWC) to set park fees expired this year, so it was decided to include that authority in the bill as well as set up a fee for inspecting boats for aquatic nuisance species (ANS). Thus the bill, HB16-1321 had a lot in it as well as some changes in how license fees were set, including allowing the PWC to set fees inside a ceiling and allowing that ceiling to go up with a consumer price index.
The introduced bill was assigned to the House Agriculture, Livestock, and Natural Resources Committee. At the Committee hearing on the bill there were just under 30 people testifying in favor of the bill and none testifying against it. It passed out with bi-partisan support and made it through Finance, Appropriations and the Committee of the Whole (full House).
By the time it got to the Senate, it was in the last few weeks of the session. Senate majority leadership had closed down all but three committees, so instead of being assigned to Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Energy Committee as would be the norm, it was assigned to Senate Finance Committee. Even with much favorable testimony before Finance, it failed on a party line vote. The reasons are not entirely obvious. It could have been for a number of reasons that are only speculative on my part at this point. I imagine that there will be a bill again next year, but incorporating some of the lesions learned from this session.
In other legislative action, one particularly bad bill was killed early on. HB17-1141, the Equal Protection from Federal Employees Personal Attack would have allowed a lessee of Federal land to file felony charges against a Federal employee who they think had infringed on their rights. This was a particularly egregious anti-public lands bill and probably unconstitutional as well.
HB17-1250, the non-game and endangered wildlife check-off program renewal and expansion passed. It would ‘expand’ the program by allocating 10% of the first $250,000 and 25% of any amount over that to a grant program for wildlife rehabilitation in the state, to be overseen by a seven member board. HB17-1374, the Colorado Heroes Hunting and Fishing Act would have given free hunting and fishing licenses, including big game licenses, to any honorably discharged veteran with two or more years of military service. While the sentiments of this bill may be laudable, with the large number of veterans in Colorado the financial costs to CPW could have been substantial, particularly without a resident fee increase. It would have pushed more of the costs of supporting CPW to non-veteran hunters and anglers. Veterans already qualify for free small game and fishing licenses. The bill failed in House Finance Committee.
SB17-008 legalized gravity knives and switchblades. I include this because when I took a wilderness survival class, the instructor emphasized that we carry a knife that we could open with one hand in case our other hand was incapacitated. This bill increases the types of legal knives that satisfy that criteria. SB17-259 made several transfers from the general fund to specific funds, including $4.1 million to the species conservation trust fund, $2.5 million to the parks and outdoor recreation aquatic nuisance species fund and $1.2 million to the division of wildlife aquatic nuisance species fund. These transfers from the general fund, though small in relation to the overall CPW budget, help to alleviate sportsmen’s dollars from being used for general state interests. Both quagga and zebra mussels have been found on boats attempting to launch into Colorado’s reservoirs and these later two transfers will fund boat inspection and keep reservoir launch areas open for 2017. The transfers did cause some confusion in Senate Finance Committee on the CPW fee bill though, as some legislators thought that they would have been paying for this activity twice. The General Assembly will likely be hesitant to continue to provide these fund transfers, and a boat inspection fee, part of the CPW fee bill, would have put that funding on a sustainable and user pay basis.