By Louie Stout
The gall of some state legislators is appalling.
Indiana Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, is one of those.
He authored a bill recently that would diminish DNR Conservation Officers authority, strip $6 million from the enforcement budget and transfer it to recreation areas within his own district.
Now, a lot of frivolous bills get introduced to the state legislature and usually die in committee. But McMillin is the House Republican majority floor leader who has more clout than the average legislator.
According to a story in last weeks Indianapolis Star, the $6 million he wants to cut would cover the pay of about 75 conservation officers. McMillin earmarks the transferred funds for improvements at Brookville Reservoir and Whitewater Memorial State Park facilities - both in his district.
McMillin, a defense attorney who has represented clients in 18 criminal cases filed by conservation officers, contends that the enforcement division is too big and that his constituents complain that DNR officers are too aggressive and hurting local tourism.
Now, weve seen overzealous officers in action here in Michiana, too. However, those issues often are resolved by working through their supervisors, not by cutting off funding altogether. Most sportsmen like having conservation officers out there enforcing the laws.
We also can agree that many DNR properties are in dire need of upgrades. But you dont rob Peter to pay Paul. If he gets his way, the entire state suffers. McMillin also wants to reduce officers authority on waterways, especially in alcohol-related matters, and forbid them from making traffic stops off DNR-owned properties unless they witness a felony.
Its hard to imagine that this bill will get anywhere. On the other hand, if a legislative leader has the audacity to blatantly endanger statewide fish and game protection to benefit his own well-being, anything is possible.
Especially in this state government.
And another thing -
Despite previous defeats, high fence hunting is back on the legislative docket. The Indiana House Natural Resources Committee voted to approve a bill that would legalize deer shooting preserves that were in business before 2015 but not allow new ones to open.
A handful of ranches offered high-fenced hunts in Indiana before the DNR ordered them shut down in 2005. However, a recent Indiana Court of Appeals ruling stated that the DNR overstepped its authority in trying to ban the hunts.
Therefore, House bill 1453 calling for legalization of the fenced-in hunting preserves will be up for a House vote early this week. The bill is being vehemently opposed by the Indiana Wildlife Association, Indiana Deer Hunters Association, Bow Hunters Association, Indiana Conservative Alliance, Quality Deer Management Association, Indiana Conservation Officers and several other conservation groups.
Opponents claim captive deer hunting operations not only violate ethical hunting practices, but pose a disease threat to wild populations if captive deer - some of which are imported into the state - escape the fenced operations.
Conservationists also are asking legislators to ban imports of captive raised deer to reduce the risk of chronic wasting disease from entering the state and to transfer the liability from taxpayers to hunting preserve owners if a disease outbreak occurs.
Sportsmen groups are urging others to contact their state representatives and voice opinions on HB 1453 before it comes up for a House vote.