In the December issue of your Outdoor Guide Magazine I wrote an article with dire predictions about legislative assault on the Missouri Department of Conservation. It turns out things are even worse than I feared.
The 2015 Missouri Legislature was seated in Jefferson City in January. Their plan to take control of the MDC away from professionals and return it to politicians is underway. They are making no effort to hide the clear intention to essentially destroy the MDC before they adjourn in May..
You can revisit the why's and how's in my December article at NoMoCWD.org/mdcbattle but here are the bills that have been filed so far:
The bills I expected:
SB 178 - - Sen. Munzlinger (R) Monticello: Redefines captive deer as livestock, shifting regulatory authority from the MDC to the MO Dept. of Ag (which doesn't want it). This puts wild deer at greater risk for the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. The same language was vetoed last year, then survived the veto override attempt by just one vote. Due to the increase in the Republican majority and the clear intention of the Republican party leadership to get this done, it is probably veto-proof in 2015.
SJR 1 - - Sen. Munzlinger (R) Monticello: Changes the Conservation Commission (currently 4 members with no more than 2 from the same party, each representing all Missourians) to 8 members, each representing one MDC Conservation Region. The number, locations and borders of these 8 regions were designed by the MDC based on size and location purely for administrative efficiency, not on politics, geography or population. This measure would politicize the Commission, leaving the residents of the St. Louis and Kansas City regions, where the majority of the voters and taxpayers live, represented by just two Commissioners. The remaining 6 Commissioners would represent a minority of the citizens of Missouri. In effect, Commissioners would represent acres instead of people. "Big Ag" would be the big winner. Citizen input to conservation policy would be the big loser.
Bills I hadn't even imagined:
HB 315 - - Rep. Brown (R) Lincoln: Requires the MDC to test road killed deer for CWD. Current MDC CWD testing protocol is designed to be the most effective and efficient. If and where road kill testing makes sense, they will do it. Legislators need to keep their fingers out of things they don't understand.
HB 316 - - Rep. Brown (R) Lincoln: Requires Missouri Conservation Commission members to register as lobbyists and to have their activities regulated as if they were agents of industry instead of volunteers exercising authority explicitly granted them by the voters, via the Missouri Constitution.
HB 317 - - Rep. Brown (R) Lincoln: Requires the MDC to pay $500 to everyone who hits a deer with their vehicle. No word on whether it will be amended to include a free carwash for every bird poop too. Nor if there will be tax credits for those who invest in heavy-duty grill guards to limit damage when they head out on the back roads looking to score another $500.
HB 318 - - Rep. Brown (R) Lincoln: Prohibits MDC employees from entering any location that may contain poultry except with the advance permission of the owner. No exception for investigation of wildlife violations or carrying out bona-fide regulatory responsibilities. No trouble guessing the name by which this bill is unofficially referred.
As I write this the above four are the ONLY bills sponsored so far by Rep. Brown this year, so her legislative priority is clear. Do you think that's the platform she ran on? In 2014 she sponsored legislation prohibiting the MDC from enforcing blue catfish length limits if the angler intends to eat the fish. Add that to the list of things that make you go "Hmmm."
And then the "Armageddon" bills, the ones clearly designed to destroy the MDC:
HJR 8 - - Rep. Redmon (R) Canton: Eliminate the "Design for Conservation" sales tax of one penny for every $8 (0.0125%). This tax was overwhelmingly approved by Missouri voters in 1976. It is the primary source of funding for the MDC, about $110 million annually, nearly 60% of their budget.
[NOTE: After the deadline for this article, Representative Redmon withdrew HJR 8, claiming he only filed it to "start the conversation". Apparently the conversation didn't go the way he planned. ]
SB 56 - Sen. Munzlinger (R) Monticello: Prohibits the MDC from charging residents fees for hunting or fishing permits. This is the second most significant source of funding for the MDC, almost 20% of the budget.
Together, these two bills would leave the MDC with a budget about one fifth of its current funding, a mostly unfunded shell of its former self. The vast majority of the employees would be fired, most buildings and properties sold, and the ability to carry out its constitutional responsibilities to protect the fish, forests and wildlife of Missouri destroyed.
The power behind these bills is completely committed to making 2015 the year authority over Conservation and funding in Missouri is returned to politicians. And make no mistake, there is real power behind these bills. The nearly bulletproof Republican majority and their leadership, as well as many Democrats representing rural districts, are marching to the tune of the Missouri Farm Bureau to get this done. They know that super majorities do not last forever, so they are putting all of their energy into this effort right now.
What are you going to do about it?
First of all, make sure our main defender, the Conservation Federation of Missouri, has your support. For $25 a year, about the cost of a box of deer loads, you can be part of the solution. Call (573) 634-2322 or visit ConFedMo.org to join or donate.
Then a phone call or email to your Missouri Representative and Senator would help. See NoMoCWD.org/contact to find out who they are and how to contact them.
Do you take your kids hunting or fishing? Show them this article too, and explain to them what Mom and Dad are going to do to make sure they will enjoy the same Conservation heritage as you did. Make them a part of the process. They might have to do this again for their kids someday.
To learn more about these bills you can visit house.mo.gov and senate.mo.gov, or just go to NoMoCWD.org where a copy of this article will be posted with live links to all of the bills.
If we let this happen it is a slap in the face to those who came before us, who did the hard work of creating the great Missouri conservation success story by wresting control away from politicians.
When is the best time to act? Now.
[Addendum: the following took place after the original article was submitted for publication: ]
In February, Senator Munzlinger invoked Senatorial privelege to block the appointment of Dave Murphy to the Missouri Conservation Commission. Dave, whom I've known well for 25 years, is the recently retired as Director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri. He is without a doubt the most qualified and wisest appointee to the Commission in my lifetime, and his nomination has been run over by the petty actions of a self-appointed crusader against the MDC.
Also, the following bills were filed:
The two bills above are truly bizarre. They prohibit the MDC from engaging in just about any relationship with any Missouri non-profit organization related in any way to conservation.
This scorched-earth bill criminalizes (yes, criminalizes, as in 6 months in jail) such cooperative conservation related agreements, impacting a wide swath of conservation projects in Missouri. Things like Operation Game Thief, Share the Harvest, Stream Teams, and Project Forest Arson. Not to mention countless cooperative habitat management agreements. The sorts of things you will find here.
And the fun doesn't end with jail time. The bill explicitly entitles anyone who considers themselves "damaged" by any such relationship to sue for relief, and to have the MDC pay all the legal bills if they prevail.
HB 833 - - Rep. Ross (R) Yukon: Eliminates authority of the MDC to manage timber on state owned lands. Creates a new organization called the "Forestry Management Consortium" which has no input from the MDC (though, interestingly, it does include Federal representation). This new organization would hold absolute authority to dictate timber management practices on state land and the MDC would be legally bound to carry out their orders. It also forces the MDC to pay for all activities and expenses of this "Consortium".
HJR 28 - - Rep. Spencer (R) Wentzville: Forces the conservation sales tax to be reauthorized by the public every 10 years. This would be disastrous despite the fact that Missouri voters overwhelmingly support the MDC and the "Design for Conservation" 1/8 of 1% sales tax. Even though it would likely be re-approved every time, fiscal responsibility would force the MDC to conduct its business as if it might not. Their planning and hiring and administration of assets such as Conservation Areas would need to be handled as if 60% of the budget is temporary. That would make long term planning impossible, and could drastically reduce the pool of persons willing to seek a career in the MDC.
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