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Legislators (and Us) Fumble the License Ball

We've seen really bad laws slip through the legislature now and then. But usually we smell some advance odors of bad things afoot.


Not this time.

We all slept right through it. Commissioners and staff of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Coastal Conservation Association of Florida, the governor, and others interested in saltwater fisheries management—they all missed the boat.

Even me.

(Though I had no idea the bill even existed.)

Maneuvered through amid misstatements and confusion, the new law wipes out the year-old $7.50 fishing license fee for resident saltwater anglers but still requires the now-free license.

Although it was ballyhooed as “revenue neutral,” the change in fact will cost Florida millions of dollars in direct revenue and from federal excise tax payments that are distributed to states based partly on the number of paid licenses.

But the downside proved too complicated for confused legislators and a busy governor. Instead, the bill passed through like a slippery ladyfish.

The story sold to lawmakers was that the resident shore license had been passed a year earlier solely to avoid an impending federal registry license. Now, it was claimed, a free license also would avoid the federal license. So, based only on the registry question, the whole shore license was gutted in value.

We lose big.

The shoddy legislative work (and failed advocacy) stings fishing conservationists because we had worked for two decades to get rid of the shore exemption, which doesn't exist in other license states or freshwater areas. The license is supposed to apply to the act of fishing, not where it is done.

Now, we wind up with a free license of no value that costs the government thousands to administer and loses the direct and federal revenue. (Thank us, Texas and California.)

Strangely, no fishing or other group was known to be pushing this year's free-license bill. Sen. Carey Baker, who largely ushered the measure through, wasn't familiar with the losses to be caused by the bill, and no one enlightened him until it was virtually too late.

In the end, we all failed.

But we can't excoriate the FWC and others too harshly in view of the all the good work they do with so many balls in the air. They're entitled to an uncommon fumble.

I get one, too?

At any rate, let's regroup and push ahead to revisit the shore license and give it at least a $5 fee that would recover the pending and future losses.

A reasonably priced shore license is as necessary as ever.

Florida Sportsman

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