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Bill to give Game and Fish authority on license fees heads to governor

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PHOENIX – Legislation that would allow the Arizona Game and Fish Department to price and package hunting and fishing licenses without approval from the Legislature was heading to Gov. Jan Brewer after winning state House approval Monday.

SB 1223, authored by state Sen. Steve Pierce, R-Prescott, would put the Arizona Game and Fish Commission in charge of the agency’s license, permit, tag and stamp fees.

The bill, which passed the House by a 43-10 vote, required two-thirds approval because it raises state revenues. It has gone largely unopposed through the Senate and House committees and passed through the Senate by a 26-2 vote.

Commission members say the current three-year legislative process for reviewing such changes makes it difficult for Game and Fish to respond to market needs such as simplifying the application process and bundling license options.

“The governor’s office has typically been supportive of state agencies responding quickly to their constituents, which is the most important thing here,” said Kurt Davis, one of five members of the commission.

The department receives no state funding and brings in the majority of its revenue through hunting and fishing license sales.

Under current laws, Game and Fish listens to concerns and fields suggestions for improvements at meetings with hunters and anglers around the state. The process of proposing changes takes a little over a year.

After that, the agency must seek approval through the Legislature, a process that usually takes around three years.

“So we have to tell our customer, ‘Come back and see us in about three or four years and we may be able to offer that product,’” said Tony Guiles, legislative liaison for Game and Fish. “It’s no surprise we’re going to lose that customer.”

Pierce’s bill has the support of 24 Arizona hunting and fishing groups.

Tom Slaughter, president of Arizona Outdoor Sports Inc., said people are deterred from buying licenses when even retailers are confused about which licenses their customers require.

“The license type is based on age, time in Arizona, physical impairments, scouting achievements, use of a crossbow, disabled vet, depredation hunter, family licenses, super conservation licenses, short-term licenses, lifetime licenses, resident or non-resident, combo licenses, benefactor licenses and more,” he said. “The various types of stamps add another layer of confusion.”

Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who voted for the bill, said Game and Fish needs to be more independent in order to respond to one particular demand from customers: changing a confusing licensing structure.

“Over the vast many years and because of legislation, we now have 44 different fishing and hunting licenses,” she said. “It has gotten to be absolutely crazy. What they would like to do is simplify this and make, they’re hoping, eight licenses.”

Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale, who voted against the bill, said that although Game and Fish has never been a “problem agency” it doesn’t need the extra authority.

“These are wholesale changes,” he said. “This bill strikes down a lot of our control over what they do and what they charge, putting it in their hands, and it’s unnecessary.”