Some license fees will go up and some observers will be removed if legislation making its way through the current legislative session becomes reality. House Bill 1130 deals with an increase in several license or application fees charged by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department, while House Bill 1141 deals primarily with towing individuals behind watercraft.
Game and Fish has often touted at public meetings that they have held the line for years on increasing the cost of various licenses. HB1120 changes that substantially. The bill was amended by the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee to increase the amount of several fees to more than what was originally requested. The amended bill received a 12-0 do-pass recommendation in committee. The bill must pass both houses of the legislature to become law.
Sen. Randy Burckhard, R-Minot, is a co-sponsor of both the House and Senate bills targeting an increase in Game and Fish fees. According to Burckhard, the increases are necessary for the operation of Game and Fish.
"They've got a problem. Their operating fund balance is at $15 million, an all-time low. By law they cannot get below that level," explained Burckhard. "They are a special funding agency and do not receive general funds. The fee increases are projected for the 2014 hunting seasons, a fairly substantial increase. What will happen is, we'll decide which version of the bill to go with and agree on."
As amended, HB1120 would increases the cost of resident fishing licenses and resident husband and wife fishing licenses by 60 percent, from $10 to $16 and from $14 to $22 respectively. The cost of licensing a boat would increase too. Motorboats shorter than 20 feet would see a 50 percent increase in cost from $24 to $36. Registration of motorboats greater than 20 feet in length would rise 35 percent, from $33 to $45. Boats are registered for a period of two years.
Other notable increases for state residents include an increase from $3 to $10 for a paddlefish tag. A paddlefish tag lottery system is also under consideration. The non-refundable fee charged for applying for elk, moose or bighorn licenses would be increased from $3 to $5. The resident big game license fee, primarily deer, would go from $20 to $25. The cost of a combination license - popular with sportsmen because it includes small game, furbearer and fishing - would be increased from $32 to $38.
An increase in fees for some nonresident licenses is also being proposed.
HB1141 whisked through the House with ease, passing 78-9. The bill is expected to face additional scrutiny in the Senate. As currently written, HB1141 would permit operators of vessels equipped with mirrors with a wide field of vision to eliminate the requirement for an observer. Current law requires "three to ski," meaning a watercraft operator, a spotter and one or more individuals in tow.
While some of the newer and larger ski boats are equipped with wide-vision mirrors, skiers and tubers can move outside the field of vision during turns. An additional safety concern for legislators to consider is the divided attention of a boat operator who must watch both the mirror and for other boaters, swimmers or downed skiers in the water. Also, many of today's watercraft are much more powerful than they were when initial regulations were implemented, and therefore can achieve speeds that present a greater risk on the water.