Randy Lanctot, executive director of the Louisiana Wildlife Federation (LWF), is already tracking more than 100 bills and about a dozen resolutions — and the legislative session doesn't end until June 21. Lanctot isn't sweating the workload. So far, he says, this session is relatively mild as regards his sacred trinity: conservation, natural resources and the environment.
The first wave of bills is already in the pipeline, but another is coming before the end of the month. "Since each legislator can introduce five more, plus an unlimited number of resolutions, I expect another 720 bills to be filed between now and April 20 — and hundreds of resolutions," Lanctot says.
LWF, which was created in 1940, will post and update them regularly at www.lawildlifefed.org. While that process won't be as burdensome, it doesn't mean there aren't a few fireworks in store this session. "It's not always the number of bills that keeps you busy, it's the stinkers," Lanctot says.
Sen. Norby Chabert, D-Houma, the newest member of the Senate Natural Resources Committee and son of a longtime state senator with years more experience than service, says Lanctot's assessment is on point. "In lean budget years like this, small things can become a big deal, and I think we're going to see that with one bill that would ban the bow-fishing of redfish," Chabert says. "That already has the ire of a lot of folks, and I think we're going to see a major showdown this session on that issue."
Senate Bill 53 by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, would ban the taking of redfish by bow and arrow or by skin divers using spearing equipment. Recreational fishermen, coastal advocates and charter captains already are mounting a campaign to oppose the bill. The debate also will bring to the table the Coastal Conservation Association, a recreational fishing lobby that has a reputation for packing the Capitol halls with hundreds of activists on certain issues. "It's shaping up to be one of the more controversial bills that we'll probably handle," says House Natural Resources Chairman Gordon Dove, R-Houma.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, meanwhile, is making good on a vow to commercial shrimpers and harvesters. He's urging lawmakers to use $800,000 in conservation money to help the shrimp industry create a certification program for wild-caught product. It's not a one-time request. The governor wants to make sure the revenues are available annually.
Alaska and many other coastal states already have similar seafood programs, and supporters here hope Louisiana's will create new marketing strategies for fishermen and processors.
It's a rare treat from this cash-strapped session in light of the state's projected $3 billion budget shortfall over the next two years. While several state agencies have been working on such a program for years, the recently created Louisiana Shrimp Task Force has fast-tracked the effort.
Jindal created the task force last year after a rally brought hundreds of protestors to the steps of the State Capitol just as dockside prices seemed to be bottoming out. The governor's support is critical for the proposed legislation.
A slew of others bills up for debate would prohibit the use of laser sights for hunting, expand the speckled trout season, permit the state to close more areas, allow the heads of sharks to be removed while in a boat, define the property lines of solid waste facilities, assert firearm rights, refigure portions of the oilfield restoration program and authorize the use of gill nets in Iberville Parish.
For Lanctot, some of the most important bills are those that will seek to siphon money from funds dedicated to his trinity issues, especially the dedicated funds bolstered by user fees. Sen. Rob Marionneaux, D-Maringouin, has bills to essentially strip the Wildlife and Fisheries Commission of its regulatory authority and hand it over to lawmakers. That's what they call a game changer. It's an ambitious idea that makes the commission a sort of prey and Marionneaux's supporters a pack of hunters. It's the perfect theme for a session where some folks are trying to blend into the foliage and others are looking for a kill.
Jeremy Alford can be reached at email@example.com.