THE GOUGING, screaming and teeth gnashing just ended. The Virginia General Assembly wrapped up a contentious session, one that promised drama and delivered.
Here is a look at legislative issues of interest to the outdoors community. Some of those that passed are awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s attention and signing into law.
First, the long-running argument over who should manage menhaden (politicians or fisheries biologists) was settled with Senate Bill 791. It directs the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which oversees every other Virginia saltwater fishery, to adopt regulations necessary to manage Atlantic menhaden, including those necessary to comply with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission Interstate Fishery Management Plan.
Recreational anglers and organizations, such as the American Sportfishing Association, applauded the new law. The issue came to a head last year after Omega Protein, a company with operations in Reedville, was charged with extensive overfishing of the small, oily fish, a favored forage species of many larger game fish.
Next, a bill changing the name of the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to the Bureau of Wildlife Resources was approved, as was a resolution approving Ryan Brown as the department’s director.
Bills pass that tighten up duck hunting access.
House Bill 173 started out fairly innocuous but grew via amendment into a bigger, more potentially restrictive provision that would prohibit DGIF from licensing any waterfowl blinds in the Potomac River tributaries of Hunting Creek, Little Hunting Creek, or Dogue Creek. All it takes is the local governing body, Fairfax County, enacting an ordinance that prohibits hunting birds with firearms. Dogue Creek, nearly a mile wide at its mouth, is half-bordered by Fort Belvoir, which does allow waterfowl hunting.
Senate Bill 987 passed. It prohibits hunting or shooting migratory waterfowl in Virginia public waters from a boat, float, raft or other buoyant craft or device within 150 yards of a residence without the consent of the landowner, except when pursuing visibly crippled waterfowl.
House Bill 388 passed, creating a special license to hunt elk. It outlines fees and seems to set the stage for possible auctioning or other sale of some elk tags as part of fundraising efforts for wildlife conservation organizations, a sometimes-conflicted practice in other states.
House Bill 449 passed and provides that anyone convicted of violating a hunting, fishing, or trapping law may also be prohibited by the court from hunting, fishing, or trapping for 1-5 years. Transporting river herring, alewife, threadfin shad, or gizzard shad (dead or alive) for sale as baitfish outside of Virginia will now a Class 1 misdemeanor after passage of SB 772.
Selling or buying a big game hunt (deer, bear or turkey) in Virginia that offers guaranteed kills will be a Class 1 misdemeanor following passage of SB 774. If such sales or purchases by any person totals $500 or more during any 90-day period, the violation becomes a Class 6 felony.
Senate Bill 882 passed, allowing the DGIF director to make external appointments for any sworn law-enforcement position above the rank of conservation police officer.
Another successful bill, SB 1004, directs DGIF, along with the Departments of Transportation and Conservation and Recreation to create a Wildlife Corridor Action Plan. Where implemented, such plans benefit people and wildlife, by identifying and protecting wildlife corridors, areas connecting fragmented wildlife habitats. The plans identify ways to decrease conflict, roadkill accidents and more.
Several bills failed, including a couple related to releasing balloons, which creatie pollution and hazards for wildlife after returning to earth. Maybe next year.
House Bill 1188 would have added a bear hunting tag back on the license to hunt deer and turkey. It failed, as did HB 1307, which directed DGIF to create and publish a “How to Hunt” booklet. As noted previously, DGIF already does this to an extent.
House Bill 1357, that would have allowed selling fish and game mounts that legally underwent the taxidermy process, failed.
From my perspective, the most egregious failure was HB 1632, which would have allowed hunting on public lands on Sunday, including state-run Wildlife Management Areas, purchased and maintained with hunter money. Hunters need to keep up the pressure and bring this back until it passes.
If you didn’t hear, there were a few pieces of firearms-related legislation this year. Some passed, a few failed; another was kicked down the road until next year.
Here is a quick rundown.
House Bill 2 passed by a vote of 23-17. It criminalizes private transfers of firearms without first paying fees, with limited exceptions. Fortunately, I can still transfer a firearm between an immediate family member without too much rigmarole or fees. Analysis shows many of these proposals will be unenforceable outside of a formal sale setting.
The highly controversial House Bill 674, the “red flag” legislation that allows seizure of a person’s guns based on another’s accusations without the customary, expected rules of due process, passed on a 21-20 vote in the senate. Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax broke the tie.
House Bill 421 passed by a vote of 22-18. It allows local governments to enact their own gun control ordinances, potentially resulting in a patchwork of laws. How this will play out in the more than 100 localities that declared themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” will be interesting to see.
Other bills that passed restrict handgun purchases to one per month, penalize gun owners who don’t report a lost or stolen firearm within 48 hours of discovering them missing, and restricts parental decisions about how firearms are kept and stored in the home.
The lightning rod House Bill 961, which would have resulted in a sweeping ban on anything related to a purported definition of an “assault rifle,” was deferred to 2021.