The Senate Finance and Claims Committee will act tomorrow (Wednesday) morning on HB 234, MSSA’s bill to prevent FWP from stealing the money the Legislature appropriates to make matching grants for improvement of shooting ranges in Montana. WE NEED THIS BILL TO PASS!!
The Committee Chairman, Senator Llew Jones, thought he could work out a side deal that would insure shooting range funding without HB 234, but that deal fell through.
The problem is that in order to protect its turf and prerogative to pirate the money, FWP sought and obtained a letter from the US Fish and Wildlife Service saying that if the Legislature locked up the shooting range money where FWP couldn’t steal it – couldn’t spend it for any other purpose than shooting ranges -, that would be considered a "diversion" of hunter license income under federal law and would make Montana ineligible to receive $27 million in federal money.
I am convinced this is a bluff by the USFWS, made in order to support the absolute turf protection that its buddies in the Montana FWP always insist upon. I think the Legislature should call this bluff by federal bureaucrats.
Here is more detail, if you want it. If not, skip to the end of this email and contact members of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee.
Detail: Federal regulations enacted by the USFWS under the Pittman-Robertson Act (11% excise taxes on guns and ammunition) requires that states eligible for P-R funding must have programs using in-state hunter license fees that are under the "control" and "administration" of the state wildlife agency. Well, excuse me. The Shooting Range Development Program is assigned by Montana law to FWP. It is TOTTALLY under the "control" and "administration" of FWP. No other agency or entity is involved. However, the USFWS says that if FWP can’t spend the money for whatever it wants, that violates the "diversion" principle.
I’d love to hear what a federal judge would say about "control" and "administration" of a program that is assigned by state law to FWP, and that has been working since 1990 with never a question or challenge by the USFWS. This, especially considering that funding shooting range development is one of the allowed uses of P-R money specified in the P-R Act passed by Congress Frankly, I wouldn’t want to be making the argument before a federal judge for the USFWS and FWP that a program that established by state law as being tasked completely and only to FWP is not under the "control" and "administration" of FWP.
That’s why I think the Legislature should call FWP’s bluff and pass HB 234. Otherwise, if FWP presents a budget to the Legislature and the Legislature amends the budget request to spend less on administration and more on biology, or less on land purchase and more on education, exactly the same argument could be made that Montana is "diverting" hunter license dollars that are no longer under the "control" and "administration" of FWP, so Montana would then again be ineligible for $27 million in federal money.
Please contact the members of the Senate Finance and Claims Committee and ask them to pass HB 234. Tell them it’s time for the Legislature to take control of the Montana FWP and end it as a subset of a federal agency. Tell them that if it’s necessary for Montana to go to federal court to enforce its proper authority under the P-R Act, then that should be done rather than surrendering Montana control over its wildlife agency to federal bureaucrats.
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Thanks loads for your immediate help!
Gary Marbut, President
Montana Shooting Sports Association
Author, Gun Laws of Montana