TOPEKA — The chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee says he doesn't plan to hold hearings on a bill that would allow the state to raise prices for hunting, fishing and furharvesting licenses and permits.
Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, said Saturday he hadn't been consulted on the amounts requested or the rationale for the changes when allowing the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism to introduce Senate Bill 50. He said the committee wouldn't hear the bill, and "the discussion on access needs to be considered."
"Wildlife and parks asked to introduce the bill along with another one on cabins," Kerschen said, referring to Senate Bill 49. "I rarely reject an agency request for a bill introduction giving them the benefit of the doubt they can make the case for their recommendations. However, I allowed this one hoping the public would weigh in with their thoughts.
"I was not surprised by the response and agree the maximum caps were not well received. We should be encouraging hunting and fishing and providing more access for public hunting. Unfortunately, you have to be willing to pay considerable fees for guided hunts and therefore making much of the best hunting unavailable for the public. Many residents have quit hunting because they have no place to go."
The bill drew ire from the public after The Topeka Capital-Journal published a story online on Friday night that detailed the requests the KDWPT made to change 35 licenses, permits and fees as defined under current law. Almost all of those changes were increases to the maximum cap for what the department is allowed to charge, in many cases doubling or tripling the cost.
Sen. Richard Hilderbrand, R-Galena, voiced his opposition Saturday morning on Twitter.
"Apparently the new Secretary of Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has some grand spending plans," he said, referring to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's recently appointed secretary, Brad Loveless. "Some in Topeka must think this is the year or raising taxes/fees and spending."
The agency said in a news release Friday night that no fee increases were under consideration at the time of the introduction of the bill and any changes would have taken place gradually. The bill wouldn't have directly raised prices but would have authorized the KDWPT secretary to increase fees pending a public hearing process.
“Any increase in the actual fees charged would be implemented through the rules and regulations process,” the KDWPT said in a fiscal note attached to the bill. “The bill would, however, give the agency latitude over time to respond to alterations in wildlife populations, changes to environment and the fiscal demands of agency operations.”
The KDWPT contends that many of its current fee caps were set in 2001 and current fees are near or at the limits. Fees for hunting and fishing licenses went up the year following the previous cap increase in 2002 and again in 2016, according to the KDWPT. The state also passed a law in 2012 doing away with a decades-old exemption for hunters and anglers ages 65 years and older from having to purchase a license, instead increasing the age for exemptions to 75. The agency doesn't receive any money from the state general fund but does receive funding from federal excise taxes that hunters and anglers pay on equipment purchases.
The other bill introduced by the KDWPT last week, SB 49, would amend current law to allow the KDWPT secretary to establish fees for camping permits without the approval of the KWPT Commission or a public hearing and eliminate the maximum fee amounts currently in statute.
The fiscal note attached to that bill says the KDWPT believes it will allow the agency to take advantage of changing market conditions, likely resulting in increased revenue to the Parks Fee Fund, and that the agency is “unable to estimate what that increase might amount to.”