Game and Parks fee increase advances

Lawmakers gave first-round approval to a bill March 15 that would raise fees that the state Game and Parks Commission is authorized to charge for a wide range of permits, licenses and stamps.

LB745, introduced by Omaha Sen. John McCollister, would increase specific fees, raise the caps on user fee ranges and increase the allowed growth rate for fees the commission is authorized to charge for hunting, fishing and other activities. The fee increases would generate an estimated $2.5 million in fiscal year 2016-17 and a further $5 million in FY2017-18.

Resident fee caps for an annual hunting permit would be raised from $13 to $18 and the cap on an annual fishing permit would increase from $17.50 to $24. The bill would raise the fee cap for a deer hunting permit for residents from $29 to $39.

The minimum fee for an annual park permit for a resident motor vehicle would increase from $25 to $30.

McCollister said some of these fees have not been increased since 2010 and most have not increased since 2003. He said that unless the commission is allowed to increase fees, it will be unable to keep up with the growing costs of maintaining the state’s parks and managing its game animals. Fees generated 87 percent of the commission’s revenue in 2015, McCollister added.

“Successful management of the commission’s operations clearly hinges on its ability to set fees in keeping with current costs of operations,” he said.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha filed several motions and amendments in an attempt to delay a vote on the bill. He said the commission should not have the authority to hold mountain lion hunting seasons, which Chambers said are cruel and unnecessary because of the small number of animals in the state.

After six hours of debate spanning three days, McCollister filed a motion to invoke cloture, or cease debate and vote on the bill. The motion succeeded on a vote of 42-2.

Senators then voted 39-3 to advance the bill to select file.

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