By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Nonresident big game and trophy game hunters won’t have to pay as much as 200% more for their tags after all.
The Wyoming Senate late Thursday rejected Senate File 60 on its first read by a vote of 20-10, with Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, excused. The Senate Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee unanimously forwarded the measure earlier in the day.
The bill would have raised prices for the 40% “special-draw” tags for nonresidents, while leaving the prices the same for the remaining 60% of nonresident tags.
It also would have raised nonresident prices across the board for Wyoming’s “Big 5” trophy game species – Bison, Moose, Rocky Mountain bighorn Sheep, Rocky Mountain goats and – if federal protections for them are lifted – grizzly bears.
During discussion before the floor vote, Sen. Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, and Sen. Charles Scott, R-Casper, questioned the constitutionality of the bill.
The Big 5 species weren’t named in the bill’s title, Rothfuss said. Only elk, deer and antelope were. The section calling for price hikes on nonresident Big 5 hunting tags was added later in an amendment approved by the wildlife committee.
The bill’s title “doesn’t need to include that – ‘elk deer and antelope’ – that’s not required,” he said. “Which means it’s a constrained title and a constrained topic, and that’s intentional.”
Including elements not in the bill’s official title could have made it unconstitutional, he said.
Scott said that raising nonresident tag fees would be tantamount to a revenue-raising measure.
And bills to raise revenue must originate in the Wyoming House, not the Senate, according to the Wyoming Constitution, he said.
“User fees, technically, can be seen as taxes,” Scott said. “This is a significant jump – albeit to an out of state group – but this is a significant bump in these license fees.”
In some instances, the fees for some special draw nonresident tags would have been raised by roughly 200 percent.
Would Have Matched Market Value
Sen. Larry Hicks, R-Baggs, said the bill would have raised revenue for only the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, not the state’s general fund. And it would have been voluntary on the part of those willing to pay more for only the special draw fees, which isn’t the same as a tax or universal fee hike.
Hicks was a member of the Wyoming Wildlife Task force, which recommended the fee hikes and backed the bill. The task force met for the last time in December.
During the discussion, the proposal also was criticized for possibly driving nonresident hunters away from Wyoming.
Hicks said Wyoming typically has “three times as many” nonresidents applying for hunting tags as there are tags available. Also, the fee hikes would have brought Wyoming’s nonresident special draw tags in line with the “market value” for similar tags in other states.