Thursday, June 22, 2017

GOP-led Ohio Senate proposes letting landowning nonresidents buy resident hunt/fish tags

The Republican-controlled state Senate snuck a provision into Ohio’s two-year proposed Operating Budget Bill that would give non-resident sportsmen resident hunting and fishing status.

On June 21st after meeting behind closed doors in caucus over the budget bill, Ohio’s 24 Republican state senators inserted into the proposal’s language two key components regarding residency as it relates to buying hunting and fishing licenses and associated permits.

While sportsmen are just beginning to discover this political gamesmanship strategy by the state Senate, the Columbus-based Sportsman’s Alliance is particularly concerned. The group is worried that the attention these insertions are bringing will draw attention away from what the organization believes is the real budgetary prize.

That matter has to do with fee increases to both resident and nonresident hunting and fishing license fees. In this regard, too, the Republicans have given the Sportsman’s Alliance only a partial loaf.

As for nonresidents receiving residential license-buying privileges, the budget proposal’s language includes revisions to the Ohio Revised Code, Section 1533. These proposed changes would allow nonresidents who own any amount of land in Ohio to be exempt from purchasing a hunting license on the property they own – and also to be able to purchase a resident hunting license to hunt off of their land anywhere in Ohio.

The proposed language transformation would likewise exempt nonresidents who own land in Ohio from purchasing a deer or turkey tag for use on the property they own – and to be able to purchase resident deer and turkey tags to hunt off of their land anywhere in Ohio.

Currently under Ohio law, a nonresident landowner must purchase a nonresident hunting license to hunt in Ohio, and nonresident deer and turkey tags to hunt those species.

Importantly, too, says critics, none of the other 49 states have such non-resident reciprocity allowances. Thus, with a few exceptions that have limited application, an Ohioan who is a landowner in one of the other states is still required to buy any appropriate nonresident hunting or fishing license, species’ tags and also to follow whatever stipulations exist for applying for special limited draw tags.

These changes give tremendous benefits to nonresidents without providing any benefits to Ohio residents, critics charge.

Fearfully, the critics contend, these changes very possibly would open the door for groups of nonresidents to purchase a small amount of land in Ohio. Such a scheme would thereby qualify all of the individuals as owning real property in Ohio, and subsequently receive resident hunting privileges statewide in the process.

The Sportsman’s Alliance says it too was caught off guard when it finally had the opportunity to examine the state Senate’s Operating Budget bill version.

However, of greater worry, says a Sportsman’s Alliance spokesman, is that any flack regarding the newly inserted residency matter will become a smokescreen that allows the group’s push for license fee increases to escape.

“Our official position is that we have not had time to evaluate properly the impact the residency stipulation changes might have, but it is always a concern whenever things are proposed without properly being vetted in a transparent and open manner,” said Rob Sexton, an Alliance spokesman.

Sexton said such study would – and should – include just how many nonresidents would actually buy land worth thousands of dollars for even a small parcel in order “to save a few bucks on buying a license.”

“We just don’t know yet what such an outcome might be, but it is something that should be looked at carefully,” Sexton said. “On the matter of fairness, though; yes, that is important, of course, and it is a question that sportsmen have a right to ask.”

Thing is, Sexton says also, sportsmen must – in his words - “stay focused” on the effort to seek increases to hunting and fishing fees charged to both residents as well as nonresidents.

This is because these fee increases “will have the greatest impact on the quality of hunting and fishing in Ohio,” Sexton says.

On that score the Sportsman’s Alliance achieved only a small portion of what it was seeking. In tweaking the Ohio House Operating Budget Bill, the GOP-dominated state Senate lowered the former’s proposed nonresident deer tag from $250 to $75; and decrease the nonresident turkey tag to $35, down from the Ohio House version proposed charge of $50.

No increase in any resident fees were proposed by either the Ohio House or the Ohio state Senate.

Sexton says his organization and a confederation of more than 40 sportsmen’s organization intend to challenge any finalized merged Ohio House and state Senate that excludes fee increases to residents as well as allowing nonresidents to enjoy resident status without reciprocity.

Even if that means lobbying Ohio Governor John Kasich to employ his line-item veto power over budgetary issues.

“If these things are still there we will seek his help,” Sexton said.
- Jeffrey L. Frischkorn

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