The 2019-20 legislative session has seen more adverse bills that impact sportsmen filed and debated than ever before. The spread of the coronavirus throughout the U.S., however, has greatly changed the prospects of that legislation.
“We’ve had our hands full as bills charging hunters as felons and denying them Second Amendment rights to those banning field trials and keeping hunting dogs outdoors have been filed in states across the country,” explained Bruce Tague, vice president of government affairs for the Sportsmen’s Alliance. “Sportsmen have held our own all session long, but if there is any benefit at all to the health crisis facing our country, it’s that it has greatly slowed the pace of legislative activity.”
By mid-February, the Sportsmen’s Alliance and its allies were monitoring more than 500 pieces of legislation that could impact hunters, anglers and trappers. Examples include: recreational trapping bans, prohibitions on wildlife contests and legislative attacks on predator management. As spring approached, state legislators began to move much faster, stretching the resources of sportsmen’s groups. Legislation that would have banned wildlife contests was heard in Maryland and New York. In California and Connecticut, legislation that would have banned the possession of African species was introduced. Vermont and New Jersey saw legislators targeting bear hunting.
By March, however, things began to slow down as some states adjourned while others began to limit social interaction. By the end of the month, many state legislatures went into near shutdown. At the beginning of March, there were still more than 100 pieces of anti-hunting legislation pending. By mid-April, nearly half of those bills had died as their legislatures adjourned. This group of states included Florida, Maryland, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin, as well as Virginia, where a large number of bills impacting sportsmen died before becoming law. Wildlife contest bills in Maryland, Oregon and Wisconsin failed as a result of our efforts to run out the clock. An animal abuse bill in Washington dropped potential language that posed a threat to sportsmen, and in Virginia a slew of legislation attacking the Second Amendment failed.
Some state legislatures could reconvene in time for a few weeks of session, making the passage of anti-hunting legislation possible, but much more difficult. Connecticut, Minnesota and South Carolina could all still have fights on their hands. In Connecticut, a bill banning the possession of African game is running out of time, and in South Carolina our Families Afield legislation has passed the House but it still awaits a Senate committee hearing.
Legislators in Illinois, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and New York may have as long as three months to reconvene and pass pending bills. In New York, wildlife contest legislation awaits a Senate floor vote. In Illinois, legislation that would impact sporting dog owners awaits its first hearing, and in Rhode Island, legislation prohibiting hunting on preserves awaits a committee vote.
Some state legislatures meet long into the year, such as California, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. So while the virus-related shutdown delayed proceedings in those states, many anti-hunting bills are still pending and have plenty of time left on the calendar, including an African possession ban in California, wildlife contest and black bear hunting bans in New Jersey, and restrictions on keeping dogs outside in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
“While coronavirus has certainly slowed the pace of legislation overall, none of these concepts are going away,” added Tague. “You can bet as soon as things begin to go back to normal, the anti-hunting lobby will resume their attack. The Sportsmen’s Alliance and our allies are still working on the states that have time left this session, and we will take advantage of the break elsewhere to prepare.”
About the Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Sportsmen’s Alliance protects and defends America’s wildlife conservation programs and the pursuits – hunting, fishing and trapping – that generate the money to pay for them. Sportsmen’s Alliance Foundation is responsible for public education, legal defense and research. Its mission is accomplished through several distinct programs coordinated to provide the most complete defense possible. Sportsmen’s Alliance: Online, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.