License Fee Bill Passes in Double Overtime

If you thought an NBA Finals overtime game was exciting, it was nothing compared to the saga of the License Fee Bill. House Bill 4668, which overhauls the hunting and fishing license fee structure, provides approximately $19 million in conservation funding for fish and wildlife habitat and more conservation officers on the ground. After sailing through the House and then the Senate Appropriations Committee, though, it hit a stumbling block in the Senate that no one expected.

For context, Michigan United Conservation Clubs supports the license fee proposal because the DNR is being transparent with how they’ll invest it. About $7 million is going to fish and wildlife habitat projects, $4.5 million for additional conservation officers, and more for fish hatchery maintenance, angler outreach, and improving the license fee delivery system.

On June 14, though, we heard some Senators were balking because of a little-used poll on the bottom of our website. Online polls like ours are fun ways for readers to express their opinions, but they don’t have the kind of safeguards to ensure a reliable margin of error. For instance, we have no idea who’s taking our poll, whether its people who hunt or fish, people from in-state or not, or if one person is voting multiple times from different computers. So, to prove the point that we shouldn’t rely on random online polls for important policy decisions, we encouraged people to vote in the poll and turned it around in about an hour.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. We heard more Senators were balking, and put out the word to call Senators in support of the bill. And the simple fact is this: no one wants to raise fees on anyone. We don’t either, but part of being responsible hunters, anglers and trappers is to pay our fair share for the management of our natural resources. What we ask in return is transparency with how it’s spent from the DNR.

When the Senate returned to session on Tuesday, June 18, HB 4668 was on the calendar, but by late afternoon we thought it would be bumped by Medicaid legislation discussions. Also on Tuesday afternoon, the bill that raises ORV fees failed the Senate vote, but then passed on reconsideration, which should have warned us. Just at the end of the day, then, the Senate voted on HB 4668 and it failed in a 19-19 tie (20 votes are required for passage). Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley would normally cast any tie-breaking vote, but he was promoting Pure Michigan in the Upper Peninsula.

The Senate decided to reconsider the vote on June 19, so we put the word out again to call your Senators, along with numerous partner groups like Trout Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, the Lake Effect Chapter of the Michigan Duck Hunters Association, Ducks Unlimited, the Michigan League of Conservation Voters, and many others too numerous to list.

The Senate did vote again that morning, but it once again failed by one vote, with 19 voting in favor and 18 against, but still not yet at that 20-vote threshold. Lt. Governor Calley was there this time, but since it was not a tie he had no tie to break. The Senate reconsidered the vote again and came back to it in late afternoon, but this time with an amendment.

Sen. Rebekah Warren (D – Ann Arbor) had voted against the bill the first two times, but offered an amendment to require the DNR Fisheries Division to complete its tactical plan by October (it completed its broad strategic plan in February). She praised the Wildlife Division’s strategic planning and annual reporting, and the amendment will make sure the Fisheries Division does the same, which will improve the DNR’s improving transparency even more. Senator Mike Green (R – Mayville) stood up to the support the amendment, it passed, and then the entire bill passed 24-14 on its third vote in two days.

Michigan United Conservation Clubs thanks every single one of you who called your Senators, and the Senators themselves for agreeing to a bipartisan compromise to put conservation over politics and passing a bill to provide conservation funding to the DNR. We always say that hunters, anglers and trappers fund conservation in Michigan, and with this bill, we expect to see greater returns from that investment.

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