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A bill that on its face appears to be an innocuous proposal, has been far from that if you look at the history of the debate that has taken place so far. Anyone who has followed the legislature over the years would say that Senator Chambers usually will disagree with any attempt to raise fees that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission charges, especially park permits.
LB 745 would allow price increases for the numerous hunting, fishing licenses and state parks permits in Nebraska. The bill is scheduled for second-round debate in the next few days.
The debate has been carried out by Senator Ernie Chambers, who wants to remove the authority of the Game and Parks Commission to allow mountain lion hunting. He has continuously vowed to delay the implementation of the bill. And has. In the first round of debate, Chambers filed several motions to delay the vote to advance the bill. After six hours of debate, LB 745 was advanced 39-3. Seventeen more motions have already been filed by Chambers for the second round, which will take up approximately four more hours of what little time we have left in the session.
The Game and Parks Commission needs the Legislature’s approval to increase the fee range for hunting, fishing and park permits. To actually raise the cost of individual permits, the nine-member board of commissioners then would have to conduct public hearings and vote.
If the commission enacted all of the fee increases included under LB 745, an estimated $5 million in new annual revenue would be taken in. Sen John McCollister, who made the bill his priority for this session, said the agency has not raised the cost of most permits for at least seven years. Permit fees supply the majority of the commission’s annual budget. Senator Chambers argues that these fees are already too high and disproportionally effects lower income people that want to use the park facilities.
LB 745 would allow the commission to raise the state park entry fee from $25 to $35 for an annual permit and from $5 to $7 for a daily permit. Prices could only be increased at 6% per year average until the cap is reached. The proposal would allow increases in many other permits and fees as well.
Over the years, Senator Chambers has introduced bills and amendments that would take away the authority of the Game and Parks Commission to use hunting as a tool to manage mountain lions, and each time it has been voted down by the Legislature. He has vowed to bring up the topic again and again as debate continues on this bill and others during the lingering days of the session.
Senator Chambers has argued that it is wrong to hunt mountain lions in the state when its populations are relatively low. Game and Parks is currently conducting a more in-depth study to try and determine what the current population is and then determine if and when control may be needed. In the only hunting season for mountain lions so far, hunters have killed 14 big cats. Game and Parks will not have a hunting season until this study is completed. I firmly believe that the authority to manage all wild game should remain with Game and Parks biologists who have the expertise to make these decisions.
We are in the last days of the session and are debating bills on the floor from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm and you can tell that the body is getting tired and tempers can flare rather quickly. Any hint of a filibuster seems to bring compromise rather quickly. We will see what the last days of the session bring.