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LWF's Summary for 2015 Legislative Session

June 18, 2015 11:00 PM

Legislators faced difficult decisions in this year’s legislative session regarding the state’s budget that we’re sure you followed in various news reports.  Louisiana Wildlife Federation monitored several bills this year related to conservation, wildlife management and protection of our natural resources. Of particular interest to our members:  

Coastal Legislation

·         House Concurrent Resolution 1 (HCR 1) – Allowed for passage of the 2015-2016 Coastal Annual Plan. The plan is the funding report and projections document that shows where, when and how funding will be expended on restoration of the coast for protection of the people, wildlife and industries of Louisiana. The funding vehicle for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority’s 2015-2016 annual plan for integrated coastal protection and restoration  passed through both state houses with nearly unanimous approval -- demonstrating continued commitment to the 2012 Coastal Master Plan. The annual plan funds coastal restoration and hurricane protection for a three-year period through the authorization of $884 million in spending towards new and existing projects.

·         HB 352 - Moved the oversight authority for a State-negotiated agreement allowing coastal landowners to retain their mineral rights into perpetuity if they donate their surface rights to a certified organization for the purposes of implementing a coastal integrated project.  The authority, established by legislation in 2006, was moved to state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority from Department of Natural Resources, consistent with the current structure of the state’s coastal program. The bill is currently awaiting signature of the governor.

Coastal and Conservation Funding Legislation

·         SB 196 – Proposed a constitutional amendment to ask voters to repeal constitutional protection for funds including the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Conservation Fund, Oilfield Site Restoration Fund, Oil Spill Contingency Fund, Artificial Reef Development Fund, and the Atchafalaya Basin Conservation Fund. An argument made in debate about SB 196 was that as recently as last year, one of these funds, the Artificial Reef Development Fund, was put before the voters for constitutional protection and was approved by Louisiana’s citizens. LWF expressed opposition to this bill, which failed to pass out of committee.

·         HB 523 – Sponsored by several House authors, this bill proposed a constitutional amendment to ask voters to repeal constitutional protection for a number of funds, including the Coastal Protection and Restoration Fund, Barrier Island Stabilization and Preservation Fund, and the Atchafalaya Basin Conservation Fund. As a reminder, all funds constitutionally-protected went before the voters to approve that protection at some point. This bill was not heard in committee.

Feral Hog Legislation

Feral hogs damage levees and habitat, destroy crops, prey upon livestock and wildlife, and carry diseases that affect humans. The feral hog population is estimated at more than 500,000 in Louisiana and growing exponentially. So far, we have not been able to shoot our way out of this problem.  Coordinating effective controls on reducing the feral hog population must remain a priority.

·         HB 288 – Proposed to prohibit the importation and release of feral hogs and restrict the transportation of feral hogs. The spread of feral hogs is linked to transport and release.  This bill was deferred in committee after lengthy debate.  LWF supported this bill and the establishment of a permit program for transport as an effective means of controlling the spread of hogs.

·         HB 167 – Proposed to allow nighttime hunting of feral hogs and coyotes year round, including during deer and duck seasons. HB 167 did not pass out of Senate Natural Resources Committee due to concerns that it would make enforcement of illegal nighttime hunting incredibly difficult. The law currently allows 24-hour hunting for outlaw quadrupeds, nutria, and beaver from the last day of February to the last day of August and hunting during daylight hours the remainder of the year. Landowners seeking to eliminate feral hogs on their property in September through February can get a free permit from the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The law as it stands allows a landowner to control feral hogs on their property year round. LWF opposed this bill, and has done so for the past three years, due to concerns about increased poaching, which is a threat to wildlife management.

·         HB 51 – Proposed to allow for a $2.50 bounty to be paid on the tails of feral hogs. The bill appeared to create a program similar to the nutria bounty program, however that funding comes from the federal government and is easier to manage with the relatively low number of participants. Also, nutria are not domesticated. The debate on this bill included noting the huge expense for the state and no way to distinguish between a feral hog tail and a domesticated hog tail. This bill died in the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee.

·         HB 306 –Proposed to allow for the hunting of outlaw quadrupeds without a hunting license. This included feral hogs, beavers and coyotes. After debate, the bill was amended to require a hunting license to shoot outlaw quadrupeds and establishing a lifetime license to do so. However, this bill was never called for vote on the House floor and will not become law.  LWF opposed this bill when it stated a license was not required for hunting outlaw quadrupeds.

Hunting and Fishing Legislation

·         SB 212- Allows for the carrying of firearms while bow hunting. Prior to the passage of this bill, people who were bow hunting could not carry a firearm greater than a .22 caliber with snake shot or rat shot ammunition for the purposes of killing snakes and rats. This bill passed both the House and the Senate and is slated to become law pending the governor’s signature.

·         HB 668 – Repeals the prohibition on enforcement of the federal rules on the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in shrimp trawls used in state waters. Present law prohibited the enforcement in state waters of federal regulations requiring the use of TEDs. This prohibition led to certain retail companies boycotting Louisiana shrimp, which appears to have motivated the changes in this bill. The bill also requires that wildlife enforcement agents wear body cameras while enforcing the TED regulation to demonstrate Louisiana shrimpers are complying and not contributing to accidental turtle trapping and deaths. This bill passed both the House and Senate with minor amendments and will become law, pending the governor’s signature.

·         HB 303 – Retains the requirement for the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to monitor and evaluate the fish stocks but requires the Commission to establish management targets to ensure a sustainable population. Retains the requirement for submission of a stock assessment report every five years but removes the requirement for use of a spawning potential ratio. Further removes the requirement for closing the season but requires that if the fishery is not meeting the adopted targets, the Department must submit management options to the commission to ensure the species meets the management targets established for that fishery. This bill passed both the House and Senate and is slated to become law pending the governor’s signature.

·         SCR 66 – Encourages US Congress to take action against illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing in Louisiana's sovereign waters by passing H.R. 774, the “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015.” There have been significant problems with illegal fishing in the Gulf of Mexico on the border of U.S. and Mexican waters where Mexican fishermen who are fishing illegally disregard state and federal laws on catch limits, or of marine species including marine mammals and sea turtles that are indiscriminately killed by the use of illegal long-line netting. This resolution passed the Louisiana House and Senate and is slated to become law.


Natural Resource Legislation

·         HCR 5 -- Approved the Atchafalaya Basin Annual Plan for Fiscal Year 2015-2016, as adopted by the Atchafalaya Basin Research and Promotion Board and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. This year’s plan had reduced funding compared to previous years, but nonetheless passed both the House and Senate and is slated to become law, pending the governor’s signature.

·         SCR 89 -- Establishes a task force to study the Legislative Auditor’s 2014 performance audit analyzing the regulation of oil and gas wells and management of orphaned wells. The performance audit generally found that the La Department of Natural Resources Office of Conservation (OC) did not always regulate oil and gas wells to ensure that operators were in compliance. The audit also found that the OC did not always effectively manage the current population of orphaned wells to reduce the number due to several factors like prioritization and funding. The resolution was amended to add a member of the Sierra Club and Louisiana Association of Business and Industry to the task force. This resolution passed, and will become law, pending the Governor’s signature.

·         SB 41- Proposed as an alternative to SCR 89 that would have lowered the triggering amount for owners/operators or companies with a working interest in the well to pay for the restoration. This legislation would have also required the previous owners/operators or companies with a working interest in the well to pay for the restoration if the costs exceeded $50,000, not $250,000 as currently mandated. This bill passed the Senate Natural Resources Committee but was not brought to the senate floor. SCR 89 was passed (see above).

Oyster Legislation

·         HCR 104 – Proposed to create a task force to answer a set of questions to determine if the moratorium on oyster leases should be lifted in the Caernarvon basin. This moratorium was issued years ago following the Avenal case at the Louisiana Supreme Court where the oystermen sued the state for opening the Caernarvon diversion. During bill debate, there were differences of opinion about who should serve on this task force and whether it was needed.  This resolution passed the House committee and the House floor but not the Senate.

·         HB 579- Requires the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to set the rate for oyster leases at $3 per acre per year beginning January 1, 2016. Dedicates the revenues from oyster lease rental payments to the Public Oyster Seed Ground Development Account. Originally the bill set another increase of the lease cist to $4 per acre per year in 2018 based on recommendations from a recently-released Legislative Auditor’s Report but that language was removed. This bill passed out of the House and Senate and awaits the Governor’s signature.

Environmental Quality/Public Health and Safety Legislation

·         HB 597 – Proposed to allow for the owner or operator of a facility to refuse to disclose information contained in a voluntary environmental audit report during civil or administrative proceedings when the audit was conducted by or at the request of the owner or operator, not at the direction of the state entity.  A voluntary environmental audit is an audit of a facility’s compliance with laws involving regulations by the Department of Natural  Resources’ Office of Conservation, Department of Environmental Quality or the Department of Public Safety and Corrections. This bill was originally scheduled for the House Natural Resources Committee, but got pulled off the agenda at the last minute. Several environmental groups organized against this bill.

·         HCR 29- This resolution urges and requests the United States EPA to withdraw the proposed guidelines for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants pursuant to Section 111(d) of the federal Clean Air Act and that in the event the EPA  adopts the proposed guidelines, urges and requests the Governor and the Attorney General to use every means at their disposal, including taking legal action, to prevent the guidelines from being implemented. This resolution passed both the House and the Senate.

·         HCR 46- This resolution urges the EPA to not adopt the new Clean Water Act “waters of the U.S.” definition. This resolution conveys Louisiana’s discontent with the new rule since the EPA and the US Army Corps of Engineers did not fully consult with Louisiana and other states when drafting the new rule. (This is not required by law and does not happen with federal administrative agencies). The resolution reads that the “Legislature of Louisiana does hereby express its historical and constitutional right to be the ultimate authority to manage the use and protection of its water.” This resolution passed the House and the Senate and is slated to become law.

·         HCR 172- This resolution directs the Louisiana National Guard not accept waste explosives at Camp Minden brought into the state after August 1, 2015. This bill was in response to the explosion that occurred at Camp Minden after Explo Systems, Inc. sent large quantities of waste artillery propellant M6 that had been improperly stored to the Louisiana National Guard Facility at Camp Minden. Shortly after relocating the waste into buildings and bunkers on Camp Minden, Explo Systems, Inc., filed bankruptcy, leaving the Louisiana National Guard with ownership of fifteen million pounds of the unstable propellant. This resolution passed the House and Senate and is slated to become law. 

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