Deal Lets TN Wildlife Commission Survive Under a New Name

A legislative impasse that threatened existence of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission was potentially eliminated Tuesday with House committee approval of a bill that would change the commission’s name, but not its basic functions.
The House Conservation Subcommittee approved the measure sponsored by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, after amending it to comport with a deal Matheny said was endorsed by Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell.
The panel rejected attempts by Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, to change the Matheny measure. He contended that “broad language” in some places it would increase the commission’s powers.
Niceley also proposed a change to have the governor appoint the executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency instead of the commission. That idea was also spurned by the subcommittee.

As amended, HB2776 would rename the commission as Tennessee Fish and Wildlife Commission, but members of the current commission would serve out their terms.
The new commission would continue to have 13 voting members with nine appointed by the governor and two each by the speakers of the House and Senate. Also, two members of the governor’s cabinet who now serve on the commission would lose their voting privileges, but remain as “ex-officio” members.
The bill also includes a provision that would remove any commissioner who misses four or more meetings. Legislators say at least one member of the present commission has missed all meetings for more than a year.
The current commission will cease to exist on June 30 as things stand now. Legislators have argued for more than a year over how its functions should be changed with critics, including Niceley, contending the commission has abused its authority, ignored legislators and mistreated some hunters and fishermen. Commission defenders disputed such claims.
Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, has also been critical of the current commission and, as chairman of the House Government Operations Committee, was positioned to block any attempts to renew the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission. He acknowledged that power was effectively “neutered” by the new bill, creating a new commission that does not require approval of his committee.
Cobb said he agreed with Niceley that the Matheny bill has such broad language it could grant new power to the commission. They refer to a provision of the bill declaring the new commission is authorized to “establish objectives within the state policy” that enable development and management of “sound programs of hunting, fishing, trapping and other wildlife related outdoor recreational activities.”
Niceley said that language could allow regulation of “people who float down the river on an inner tube.” Matheny said that is not the case.
Niceley said Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey had told him Haslam was “comfortable” with his proposal to have the governor name the executive director of the new commission.
But no one on the committee would endorse the idea. Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, said if the governor names nine of 13 commissioners, he will have ample “say-so” in naming an executive director by the commission.

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