The Missouri Department of Conservation director testified Monday night in Jefferson City against a proposal to increase the size of the Conservation Commission from four to nine, saying it could lead to regional favoritism.
The hearing was delayed for about an hour, when a fire alarm began sounding at the Capitol. Lawmakers had to be evacuated, until firefighters checked the building.
Conservation director Sara Parker Pauley testified during the lengthy committee hearing.
“The Conservation Commission believes that House Joint Resolution 55, which proposes to amend the Missouri Constitution, is unnecessary and in fact, threatens the future of conservation in Missouri as we know it,” Pauley testifies.
State Rep. Chris Dinkins, R-Annapolis, has filed the joint resolution to increase the commission’s membership to nine nonpartisan members: one appointed by the governor and eight elected from each Conservation region.
Pauley testifies that Missourians approved a constitutional amendment in 1936, creating a four-person Conservation Commission to manage, conserve and restore Missouri forest, fish and wildlife. She says the 1936 constitutional amendment was in direct response to a fish and game agency that had become ineffective due to undue influence of local and state politics.
“My greatest concern is that expanding the commission will dilute and politicize the department’s ability to take care our state’s fish, forest and wildlife resources and connect our citizens to those resources,” says Pauley.
Pauley says the mandate of each of the four Conservation Commissioners is to represent the entire state and to work together. She also worries that expanding the commission could lead to commissioners competing for activities in their region.
The Conservation Federation of Missouri also testified against the bill, at the hearing.
As for Representative Dinkins, she’s filed HJR 55 to elect Conservation commissioners and expand the commission to nine. She says the commission needs more rural representation.
Dinkins testifies that the current four-person commission is too small, saying the commission’s current size limits their ability to perform their duties.
“In June of 2019, there were only two (Conservation) commissioners because the other two’s terms had ended. So one had to nominate one for chair, and the other one had to nominate the other one for vice chair and secretary, and then they had to second each other’s motions,” Dinkins testifies.
Dinkins received pushback Monday evening from a fellow Republican when she testified that the commission needs more rural representation.
State Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, noted that the Conservation Commission’s current chair is Don Bedell of Sikeston. But Dinkins says she and her constituents in small towns like Annapolis do not consider Sikeston rural.
Southeast Missouri’s Sikeston has about 16,000 residents.
Dinkins says her proposal would ensure that everyone has representation.
“It seems like (the Department of) Conservation has a lot to do with our rural communities, yet we don’t really have a voice,” she told Missourinet on Friday.
Missouri’s Conservation Commission currently has four members, appointed by the governor or previous governors. The Conservation Commission’s four current members are Mr. Bedell of Sikeston, Columbia’s Barry Orscheln, Mark McHenry of Kansas City and Steven Harrison of Rolla.
Bedell serves as the chair, and Orscheln is the vice chair. McHenry is the secretary, and Harrison is a member. Commissioners are responsible for appointing the Conservation director, and serve as policy makers and approve wildlife code regulations. They’re also involved with strategic planning.
If lawmakers approve Dinkins’ resolution this session, it would go to the statewide ballot in 2022. Based on comments from committee members in both parties on Monday, Dinkins’ bill is unlikely to pass in committee without some revisions.
The eight elected members would be elected in November 2024, under Representative Dinkins’ proposal.
State Rep. Paula Brown, D-Hazelwood, the House Conservation and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking Democrat, tells Dinkins she’s worried the November 2024 ballot could be 25 pages long.
Copyright © 2021 · Missourinet