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Eye On Boise

Rep. Scott targets Fish & Game issues with three bills

Rep. Heather Scott (Betsy Z. Russell)
Rep. Heather Scott (Betsy Z. Russell)

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, presented her first three proposed bills today, all dealing with Fish & Game issues. The House Resources Committee agreed to introduce all three, but members had lots of questions and concerns about the proposals.

One would repeal an existing law that allows conservation officers, upon their retirement, to be issued their badge, gun and handcuffs, if three of their fellow officers certify “that the retiring officer has served meritoriously for a minimum of 15 years and should therefore be so honored.”

Scott said, “I believe we shouldn’t be distributing state property out to state employees, unless we do it across the board to all state employees.” She said a constituent in her district brought the issue to her attention.

According to the Idaho Fish & Game Department, an average of three retiring conservation officers a year have received the honor over the past 10 years. Michael Pearson, chief of administration for the department, said the gun, handcuffs and badge cost the department about $500 total, so the average cost over the past 10 years has been $1,500 a year.

The second bill would restrict inspections and searches by Fish & Game officers of storage facilities, tents, and other locations, requiring a search warrant or consent for any inspection or search. “It just kind of appears that the way this is written, the state has a right to search, and they don’t have a right to search without consent or a search warrant,” Scott told the committee. “So this just clarifies that.”

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, an attorney, said, “It seems to me this is actually more aggressive than a standard 4th Amendment protection, because normally cops can search based on probable cause – they don’t actually have to go to a warrant.” As an example, she said, if an officer sees drugs in plain view in a car, the officer can cite probable cause and search the car. “Why such a stricter bar?” she asked Scott.

“Because these stations are set up to check wildlife, and that’s what they’re checking for, wildlife,” Scott responded. “They’re looking for illegal wildlife, out of season wildlife, checking licenses, and they’re looking for things like that. It’s not a full-blown search for illegal activity, I guess you could say.”

Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, moved to introduce the bill, clearing the way for a hearing, but said, “I’m not saying I’ll support this. … This is pretty aggressive legislation, in my view.”

The third bill would impose minimum safety standards for Fish & Game check stations, including  lighting, signage and sight distance, plus add this line to current law: “Fish and game check stations are only authorized to stop licensed hunters and fishermen.”

House Resources Chairman Dell Raybould, R-Rexburg, said, “If a car’s coming down the road toward a check station, how are they going to know whether that car is containing licensed hunters and fishermen?” Scott responded, “They’re required by law to stop, if you’re licensed.” Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, a former Idaho Fish & Game commissioner, said, “I believe the question was: Poachers don’t need to stop?”

Scott said, “I’m not going to comment on that.” Raybould interjected, “If a poacher had a fishing license and they were shooting elk, I think they could stop ‘em because they have a fishing license.” Wood responded, “But they wouldn’t. That’s the issue.”

Rep. Steven Miller, R-Fairfield, said, “The way I read that, I think the implication is that everyone has to stop when it’s signed, but I think what’s trying to be said here is that not everyone gets checked. I’m not sure yet that I quite understand completely what it’s trying to communicate there.”

After a pause, the committee agreed to introduce the measure. Scott told the committee, “Thank you for your patience, because these are my first three RS’s ever.” An RS, which stands for “routing slip,” is the legislative term for a draft bill before it’s been introduced; today’s vote to introduce makes the measures officially bills, meaning they will be assigned a bill number, posted online, and the committee could schedule a hearing on them.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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