A conflict between a state lawmaker and the head of a conservation organization was rehashed at a legislative committee hearing in Jefferson City on Wednesday.
Republican Representative Chuck Basye initially introduced a bill in early February that would do away with hunting license fees for property owners who live out of state. The landowner would qualify for the break if they own 75 acres or more.
Brandon Butler, executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri, spoke against the measure during its hearing before the House Conservation and Natural Resources Committee.
While doing so, he accused Basye of filing it for the benefit of his brother. And in his weekly column that circulates through newspapers across the state, Butler slammed Basye for admitting as much when he originally presented the bill in 2015.
“The representative flat out told the committee he wrote this bill for his brother”, wrote Butler days later. “Committee members couldn’t distance themselves fast enough.”
Basye’s brother currently resides in the state of California.
At a hearing in front of the same panel Wednesday, the Rocheport representative said he found Butler’s conduct unprofessional and noted he rejected Butler’s apology when the two met in House Majority Leader Rob Vescovo’s office.
Basye says Butler misrepresented his legislation during an interview this week on Missourinet affiliate KSSZ in Columbia. “He talked about non-residents hunting for free,” said Basye. “Non-residents. I never said anything about free. This is about non-resident landowners. There’s a big difference.”
Basye was heartily supported by several fellow Republican members on the committee. Republican chairperson Sonya Anderson of Springfield says she was outraged by Butler’s behavior during the hearing.
“As a chair, I was quite offended and appalled by his nature of testimony,” said Anderson. “As someone who has been here many times and testified on other bills, I just could not believe some of the things that he said, and found very offensive.”
Bayse actually came before the committee with new legislation Wednesday, although its language hasn’t changed. Earlier in February, he’d presented his proposal in the form of a bill. But lawmakers actually can’t change hunting fees because the four-person state Conservation Commission within the Department of Conservation oversees wildlife regulations.
The Columbia Missourian reported that at the previous hearing, Basye had stated that the state’s constitutional language isn’t that clear-cut but could still pose a problem.
Wednesday, he presented a House Joint Resolution, which if passed, will require a public vote.
The change could possibly make the proposal a bigger drain on state funds.
If the joint resolution were to go to a special election, the legislative research division estimates the cost to General Assembly funds could exceed $7.8 million in order to reimburse local election authorities for their expenses.
The division estimates that if the bill were to become law, the Conservation Department would lose roughly $500,000 a year from the loss of non-resident hunting permit fees.
In any form, Basye’s plan was warmly received by some Republican committee members. Representative Warren Love of Osceola thinks property owners are more invested in the state and should not be charged for hunting.
“Everybody needs to get their head wrapped around that,” Love said. “Yes, you do contribute to the wildlife. And the question is, ‘Should you have to pay to harvest that for your own?’ I don’t think so.”
Currently, non-resident landowners pay $225 for firearm deer permits, $225 for archery permits, $190 for spring turkey hunting permits and $110 for fall turkey hunting permits.