Legislator seeks to eliminate licensing fees

Published 12:11 am Saturday, January 24, 2015

NATCHEZ A local legislator is attempting to eliminate hunting and fishing licensing fees for Mississippi residents saying sportsmen shouldn’t have to pay to do something that’s a God-given right.

Sen. Melanie Sojourner, R-Natchez, introduced Senate Bill No. 2446 earlier this week which calls for a repeal of the state law that requires residents to pay for hunting and fishing licenses through the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

Any Mississippi resident ages 16 through 64 must obtain a hunting license, except while hunting on lands titled in their name.

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Those licenses range anywhere from $32 for an all encompassing sportsman’s license to  $17 for a permit allowing all game hunting and freshwater fishing.

Sojourner said she believes a voter-approved addition to the state’s constitution last year listing hunting and fishing as a constitutional right negates the need for residents to pay for those licenses.

“I started looking at it like, if we’re going to recognize this as a God-given right, why are we penalizing people to pay a fee to engage in that right?” Sojourner said. “I visited with constituents around the district, and I think sportsmen love the notion of not having to pay that fee.”

But Sojourner said she doesn’t want to simply cut off a revenue stream to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks.

“I do not want wildlife and fisheries thinking I’m saying, ‘We’re going to automatically cut you, and I don’t care about you’ because that’s not true,” Sojourner said. “I come from an agriculture and sportsman family, and we’re very supportive of what wildlife and fisheries does.

“I just think there are more creative ways we can look at getting those funds, while also rewarding Mississippi sportsmen.”

Sojourner said MDWFP brought in $571,000 in licensing fees last year and is projecting to bring in $570,000 during this fiscal year.

The Republican senator said she believes revenue stream could be supplemented with the state’s budget surplus or by finding excess spending in MDWFP’s budget.

“We can make that difference up and even that shortfall without penalizing the hunters and fishermen who are abiding by the law and engaging in hunting and fishing,” Sojourner said. “It just comes back to why should we possibly ask people to pay for something that the voters have said is their God-given right?”

If approved, the legislation would take effect July 1.

James Walker, director of public affairs for the MDWFP, was unavailable for comment Friday.