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Domed ceiling of the Idaho House chamber

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BOISE — The Idaho House on Tuesday voted 55-15 in favor of legislation proposed by Idaho Fish & Game to limit the number of out-of-state big game hunting tags issued for certain hunting districts, while also raising non-resident fees so revenue would stay the same.

Rep. Clark Kauffman, R-Filer, said the bill is aimed at reducing “the overcrowding from out-of-state hunters,” adding, “This is one of the highest priorities requested by the hunters of Idaho.”

However, he said, out-of-state hunters, who pay higher fees than residents, provide about 50% of the budget for the Department of Fish & Game. So the department is proposing to raise out-of-fees by about 10%, varying by type of fee, “just to stay even.”

“It doesn’t affect the non-resident wolf and veterans’ tags; they’ll stay the same,” Kauffman told the House. “We’re still competitive with our border states on the cost of hunting. The last fee increase for out-of-state hunters was 10 years ago.”

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, spoke in favor of the bill, HB 330. “This is a tax that’s paid by somebody else,” Moyle said, “and as we talk about taxes, it’s always better if somebody else pays that tax other than Idaho citizens. So I think it’s an advantage to have something like this, where we put the burden on those who come to Idaho, use our resources, our lakes, our streams, our rivers and everything else, and they help pay for it. So this is a better way to go and it saves our sportsmen’s money.”

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, debated against the bill, saying she had sent information about it to people in her district and they expressed concerns, “on the principle of does increasing the price of a tag really help the problem of congestion. I think that we can logically say no,” she said. “I think that there are other ways that we can reduce congestion. One would be maybe by limiting the hunting season itself.” Or, she said, Idaho could reduce its wolf population, to promote more elk and deer survival.

Kauffman, in his closing debate, said, “I probably was amiss, didn’t explain this very well. It does reduce the number of tags for out-of-state hunters. When you do that you lose revenue. ... So there will be less hunters because they’re limiting the hunts. They’re just raising the price to keep us even.”

Nevertheless, 14 House Republicans joined Giddings in voting against the bill. The bill received a negative rating, a “-1,” from the Idaho Freedom Foundation, whose staffer Parrish Miller wrote in the lobbying group’s “Freedom Index” that the fee increases were too large. Miller is the same Freedom Foundation staffer who wrote a scathing review of a bill updating Idaho’s daycare regulations that was killed in the House last week; Miller gave the daycare bill a “-7” rating.

HB 330 still needs approval from a Senate committee, passage in the full Senate and the governor’s signature to become law.

The sale of non-resident deer and elk tags provided 57% of the license revenue that Fish & Game received in fiscal year 2019, according to the department. Without the fee increase, the department estimated that the non-resident license and tag reductions, which it is implementing by rule, would reduce revenue to the department by between $5.4 million and $9 million a year.

If the bill becomes law, the increases would take effect Dec. 1.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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