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Compromise in works on licensing

Published on -3/9/2012, 11:46 AM

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Robin Jennison hopes a bill affecting licensing requirements for Kansas anglers and hunters is able to make its way out of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

That way, he'll get a chance to explain the details of the bill, something he thinks will make it more palatable to seniors angered by a proposal to require the continued purchase of fishing and hunting licenses.

For Jennison, he's happy a proposal the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism has been suggesting now is being embraced by Sen. Allen Schmidt, D-Hays.

The idea -- to be brought up today before the Senate Natural Resources Committee -- essentially would develop two licensing scenarios for anyone 65 and older.

The first would let seniors, up to 75 years old, purchase an annual fishing and hunting license at half the normal cost.

Currently, licenses are $18 before fees, which would make the senior fee $9.

A second option would create a one-time lifetime senior license, to be sold at no more than an eighth of the current lifetime license.

Jennison, however, has vowed the license would cost no more than $40, although he's hoping it might even be a bit less than that.

The price of the license for seniors actually isn't at the heart of the discussion any longer.

Instead, it's more about KDWP&T's ability to receiving matching funds from federal programs that levy a tax on fishing and hunting supplies.

"We're trying to get something set up so we can get some federal money,' said Sen. Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, the chairman of the Senate committee hearing the bill.

While wasn't sure how the proposal would fare in today's hearing, he is convinced Schmidt's idea has softened the blow for some legislators.

"He needs some money," Ostmeyer said of Jennison. "But it's very controversial."

Without charging, Jennison said, state receives nothing from either program, amounting to a significant loss.

The lifetime senior license offers an odd mix that lets KDWP&T get money under the program for the estimated life of the holder.

Of the $40 cost, Jennison said, $35 of it will be socked away into a savings account, the rest going to cover the cost of issuing the license.

In exchange, for the next 13 years -- provided the license is purchased at age 65 -- the state will get $16 from the Pittman-Robertson Act and $9 from the Dingell-Johnson Act. KDWP&T also will be able to pull out a portion of the money paid into the account, as if the license was being purchased.

Kansas once had that type of system set up for lifetime licenses, but was soundly criticized for keeping nearly $4 million in an account.

But when the money was drawn down and used, the federal cost-sharing money declined as well.

Use of the money received under either Pittman-Robertson or Dingell-Johnson is strictly limited only to fishing and hunting endeavors.

It cannot be used to fund parks or tourism activities, Jennison said.

While he's not yet suggesting the state start saving money again, it's likely that's exactly what will happen.

In the case of a 16-year-old given a lifetime license as a gift, setting aside money and amortizing it over the expected life of the teen will mean a virtual flow of money over the course of the teen's remaining 62 years.

What's most disconcerting to Jennison, however, is the "churn" in the state's license buyers.

As it stands now, only about 48 percent of the state's anglers and hunters buy a license every three years, even though overall numbers remain fairly stable.

When they don't buy a license, the state misses out on the federal excise tax money that anglers and hunters are already spending.

"We need to be able to count them as hunters," Jennison said.

He suspects KDWP&T will be doing some marketing to show what the state is missing.

Jennison has taken the brunt of the calls and letters from seniors since the agency proposed doing away with the exemption.

Since coming up with the new idea, he said, the "worst response I get is 'heck, I can live with that.' "

If it doesn't pass, Ostmeyer said he thinks it will offer Jennison some insight into the task before him, and he will be able to come back next year with a proposal that legislators will approve.

* * *

A hearing in the Senate committee Thursday on allowing compound bows to be used during deer season will likely clear the way to the Senate floor, Ostmeyer said.

"We've got a deer problem out there," he said. "It came out of the House real easy. We'll find out what it will do in the Senate."

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