For the past three sessions of Congress, a package of bills known as the Sportsmen’s Act has been introduced. Though the exact collection of bills in the package has varied, the integrity of the Sportsmen’s Act has remained the same: to benefit our nation’s sportsmen and women by providing increased access to our public lands and waters, improving fish and wildlife management and protecting the use of traditional fishing tackle.
Even during politically divisive times, many members of both parties in the past and today have recognized the significance of the Sportsmen’s Act to every stretch of the U.S. Despite its history of support and merit, politics have stood in the way of legislation passing. ASA is working in lockstep with its fellow sportsmen and conservation organizations to ensure 2016 is the year that measures to promote and expand fishing and hunting opportunities successfully are signed into law.
The U.S. Senate passed several provisions found in the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 (S. 405). By a vote of 85-12, the Senate approved amendment #3234 as part of a comprehensive Energy Policy Modernization Act (S. 2012), which authorizes the National Fish Habitat Partnership program and requires certain public lands to be open for recreational fishing and hunting unless specifically closed through an open and public process.
On October 8, the House Natural Resources Committee passed companion Sportsmen’s Act legislation – H.R. 2406, the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act; and in February, it passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 242-161. Passage of H.R. 2406 represents another major milestone for the recreational fishing community.
Some important provisions to the sportfishing community were stripped from the Senate version, so ASA is working to retain them from the House’s version when a conference between chambers plays out at the end of 2016.
ASA believes the Sportsmen’s Act, if passed, would be one of the most significant angler and hunter pieces of legislation in decades. We, therefore, remain resolute in ensuring it is signed into law. In doing so, we put priority on advancing the parts that would have the most positive impact on the sportfishing industry, which are protecting fishing tackle from unwarranted federal regulation; enhancing public access to public lands and waters; and codifying the National Fish Habitat Partnership.
During the 112th Congress in September of 2012, Sen. John Tester (D-MT) and 14 cosponsors introduced the Sportsmen’s Act of 2012 (S. 3525), a package of 17 bills. The three most important to the recreational fishing community were an amendment to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the National Fish Habitat Conservation Act (NHFCA), and Making Public Lands Public (MLPL). The bill boasted the bipartisan support of 52 cosponsors, but hit a budget point of order in November of 2012. Prior to voting on the point of order, party politics consumed the allotted Congressional floor time for debate and ultimately sank the bill.
In the next session of Congress, on July 18, 2013, Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced a Sportsmen’s Package (S. 1335) in the Senate. This package of 11 bills, including the Recreational Hunting and Fishing Heritage Opportunities Act (Heritage) as well as a modification to TSCA, which would block attempts to federally ban lead in recreational fishing tackle.
A few months later on November 6, Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC) introduced the Sportsmen’s and Public Outdoor Recreation Traditions Act – the SPORT Act (S. 1660). As in the Murkowski bill, this package contained TSCA and Heritage provisions. The SPORT Act did include the MPLP provision and an exemption for the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund from future federal budget sequesters. Neither the Murkowski bill nor the Hagan bill received endorsement by the sportfishing, hunting or conservation communities because the bills were not bipartisan.
On February 5, 2014, the House of Representatives passed the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act, or the SHARE Act (H.R. 3590) sponsored by Representative Bob Latta (R-OH). This bill contained the same two important provisions to the sportfishing community as the Murkowski and Hagan bills.
On February 4, 2014, Senators Murkowski and Hagan introduced the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2014, S. 1996. This package consisted of 12 bills, had 10 additional cosponsors compared to the SPORT Act and SHARE Act, and contained the TSCA, Heritage, and MPLP provisions.
The U.S. Senate in July of 2014 failed to pass a vote that would have moved the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act forward. Eighty-one amendments were offered to the bill, many of which were not endorsed by the sporting community or germane to the original bill. The vote and subsequent failure had nothing to do with the merits of the bill and much to do with the upcoming mid-term elections and discord across party lines. Even so, the bipartisan vote in the House and bipartisan set of sponsors in the Senate highlight how conservation issues that impact sportsmen and women can cut through partisan politics.
These previous attempts at passage have laid the groundwork for early introduction of the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015 – S. 405. On February 5, 2015, Sens. Murkowski (R-AK) and Heinrich (D-NM) unveiled a reenergized Sportsmen’s package along with four other cosponsors. Collectively, the package contained 14 measures that would benefit our nation’s sportsmen and women by providing increased access to our public lands and waters, improving fish and wildlife management and protecting the use of traditional fishing tackle.
The Act, as it was before being modified by the two committees of jurisdiction, included several provisions benefiting the sportsmen community, some of which are:
This bipartisan bill would provide increased access for recreational opportunities across the nation as well as the protection of our fishing and shooting heritage. However, it would benefit even more if NFHCA was added to the package. NFHCA is a national conservation investment strategy that will extend the impact of our nation’s conservation dollars. The Act’s goal is to foster and facilitate landscape-scale, regional fish habitat conservation projects that originate in local communities, with anglers and conservation groups working together with state and federal agencies.
On Feb. 26, 2016, the SHARE Act passed the House by a vote of 242-161. ASA was also pleased that an amendment was defeated that would have stripped language that prohibits the National Park Service from implementing unwarranted fishing closures without state approval, like what occurred at Biscayne National Park.
In the Senate, passage of the Sportsmen’s Act has been much more complicated. Both Energy and Natural Resources and Environment and Public Works subsets of the Sportsmen’s Act passed out of committee, but the EPW portion proved to be more contentious. Already containing provisions opposed by many Senate Democrats, a couple “poison pill” amendments were added in committee making it even more problematic for Democrats.
Due in large part to the contentiousness of the EPW portion of the bill, Senate leadership decided to attempt to advance only the ENR portion of the Sportsmen’s Act. That was successfully achieved as an amendment to the Energy Bill, which passed the Senate on April 20. While ASA hailed this as a victory, as several of our top priorities were included (e.g., better facilitating recreational access to certain federal lands, authorization of the National Fish Habitat Partnership Program), other priorities contained in the EPW portion were left behind, most notably an exemption from unwarranted EPA regulation for lead fishing tackle.
The Senate and House must now work to reconcile differences in the Energy Bills passed by each chamber. Sportsmen’s Act will be a part of those discussions. ASA will advocate for maintaining priority provisions included in the Senate-passed Sportsmen’s Act measure, as well as adding back in priority provisions that were not included.