House approves game and fish bill

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

Wednesday, April 3, the Republican House passed its omnibus game and fish, but not before lengthy debate on shooting ranges, venison donation, gray wolves.

One provision in Rep. Tom Hackbarth’s bill stipulates that publicly funded shooting ranges must be available four times a year for use by youths enrolled in firearm safety training — gun ranges at prisons were excluded and range operators under the bill could charge fees.

But a number of lawmakers, including a Republican, criticized the provision.

“It just creates another problem for our cities,” said Rep. John Benson, DFL-Minnetonka.

A Rochester Democrat said that one of her local law enforcement agencies spoke of a $500,000 cost for making a local gun range suitable for use by youngsters.

Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, warned that some government facilities, and the training that occurred in them, legitimately should be closed to the public.

Beyond this, some neighborhoods don’t like the gun ranges to begin with. Having them used by youngsters will only intensify this dislike, Lenczewski said.

“If it’s so important why doesn’t the state help fund it,” said Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, speaking in support of removing the shooting range provision.

Rep. Joe McDonald, R-Delano, said there was a nearby gun club for young people in Delano, other youngsters may not be so fortunate.

“So this is a great thing for the youths,” he said.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, House environment committee chairman, defended the gun range provision.

If it’s going to cost $500,000 for gun safety training classes in Rochester to use a range  — a dollar amount Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, a chief of police, found preposterous — then the local training classes might be willing to drive to a different range, said McNamara.

The attempt to remove the gun range provision failed on a 61 to 70 vote.

Another provision drawing lengthy debate dealt with the proposed elimination of the state’s venison donation program.

The program, first funded by the Legislature in 2007 through surcharges on some deer hunting licenses and through donations, allows hunters to donate deer for processing and distribution to the needy through local food shelves.

In 2010 state hunters donated 556 deer, providing 19,725 pounds of processed venison to food shelves.

But concerns about lead bullet fragments in venison and the potential health risk they pose resulted in state officials X-raying donated venison at the cost of $3.87 a pound, Hackbarth said.

Hackbarth, besides redirecting venison donation funding to a walk-in access program providing public access to private lands, also in his bill removes state oversight of venison donated to charity.

That’s the way venison use to be donated, Hackbarth said.

“That’s what I want to get back to,” he said.

“Keep the State of Minnesota out of it,” said Hackbarth, R-Cedar.

Food shelves would be free to accept the venison or not, he said.

Dayton Administration officials, including Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr and Department of Agriculture Commissioner David Frederickson, in a letter to Hackbarth and McNamara spoke against exempting venison from food safety standards.

“Food safety is a serious concern, and Minnesota cannot become an “island” among states with exemptions to the food code. Moreover, leaving venison exempt from all oversight means that Minnesotans using food shelves – many of whom are children — may be exposed to adulterated venison and the resulting health effects of lead poisoning,” the letter read in part.

On the House floor a number of Democratic lawmakers also spoke out against the provision.

“We don’t have a time machine in the (House) well where you can go back in time,” said Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul.

The information concerning lead and venison is known, Hansen said.

Food shelves do not want donated venison without a third party signing off to its safety, he said.

Minnesota Deer Hunters Association officials have indicated they do not want the venison donation program scrapped. But if it is, they want program funding, mainly derived from deer hunters, they argue,  to be used to benefit deer hunters.

Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, who offered an amendment to remove the venison donation provisions from the bill, said Hackbarth was not abiding by the wishes of the association.

But Persell’s amendment failed on a 61 to 70 vote.

Another provision in the bill drawing comment related to the proposed gray wolf trapping and hunting season for this fall.

“We are way overpopulated with wolves,” said Hackbarth.

Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, spoke of a farmer near Lancaster, west of Roseau, losing 24 calves one spring to wolves and of turkey ranchers losing a hundred turkeys at a time.

In some areas wolf tracks are more common than deer tracks in the woods, he said.

But Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, asked Hackbarth whether he had spoken to Native Americans about the wolf legislation — Hackbarth indicated he hadn’t.

Gauthier suggested that greater sensitivity should be shown to the religious beliefs of others. And the wolf has religious significance to Native Americans, he said.

One Democratic provision that was amended into the bill was offered by Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake, changing the date of the May 12 fishing opener to May 5.

Dill cited the unusually warm weather and advanced spring as an “opportunity to get people out.”

He did not intend to permanently move the fishing opener ahead, but merely for this year, Dill said.

Dill described it as a “once in a lifetime” opportunity.

Hackbarth’s bill passed the House on a 82 to 49 vote.

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