Bill to create a sportsmen’s caucus goes to governor

Outdoors Columnist, DU Volunteer/State Publicity Chairman

SOUTH CAROLINA SPORTSMEN will have a much stronger and more organized voice in legislative decisions in the future with the passage of a bill that authorizes a South Carolina Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus.

The bill was ratified Thursday and sent to Gov. Mark Sanford’s desk for his signature. Sponsors hope the governor will put his seal of approval on the bill since he was a member of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus when he was a congressman.

The South Carolina Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus is modeled after the 315-member congressional caucus in Washington. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and U.S. Reps. Gresham Barrett, Henry Brown and John Spratt are members of that caucus.

Although passage this session was in doubt because both houses were tied up on other matters, the bill had strong bipartisan support in both the S.C. House and S.C. Senate. Pending the governor’s signature, South Carolina will become the 29th state to join a national network of state legislative caucuses, which focus on promoting a pro-sportsmen’s agenda in state governments.

The South Carolina caucus will be a member of the National Assembly of Sportsmen’s Caucuses, which provides a venue for exchange of ideas between state caucus leaders, sportsmen’s groups, industry, media and other organizations.

“The Sportsmen’s Caucus is an important step to building coalitions, strengthening opportunities and enhancing outdoor activities throughout South Carolina,” said Sen. Thomas Moore, D-Clearwater. “As a bipartisan legislative group, we will further the understanding of and access to outdoor sports.”

Rep. Mike Pitts, R-Laurens, who spearheaded the effort to form the caucus, said the caucus will work to preserve hunting and fishing traditions in South Carolina.

“The South Carolina Sportsmen’s Caucus will serve as a medium for uniting legislators and outdoor interests to work together to guide policy decisions to enhance hunting and fishing activities and natural resources for future generations of South Carolinians to enjoy,” Pitts said

Pitts said 72 members from both political parties joined an organizational caucus in the House. The Senate now will move to organize a Senate committee to work with the House on writing bylaws for the new caucus.

“This is new ground because it is a bicameral, bipartisan caucus, and highly unusual in South Carolina to put the Senate and the House on the same page,” Pitts said. “Hopefully, everything will be in place when the session starts next year.”

Pitts said the caucus plans to address several major issues in the next legislative session, including no net loss of public hunting and fishing areas and a constitutional guarantee of the right to hunt in South Carolina.

“No net loss says simply that if a state loses public hunting or fishing areas, we must locate predominately public hunting or fishing ground in another area so there will be no net loss to the public,” he said.

However, Pitts said enforcing a no net loss law in South Carolina probably will be more difficult than in other states because of the state’s relatively small size, coupled with the tremendous development under way across the state.

“In the Upstate, when we lose public hunting there may not be another area we can go to because of development,” he admitted.

The constitutional amendment to establish a right to hunt in South Carolina has already been introduced in the Legislature. It is not expected to make it out of the Senate this year, but it will be a key issue for the Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus next session, especially on the House side, Pitts said.

The caucus also will be ready to address other issues that pop up from time to time, such as the bill to ban computerized hunting this year, he noted.

More than 1 million South Carolinians continue the state’s tradition of hunting and fishing and spend more than $1 billion annually to use the state’s natural resources. With increased encroachment on traditional hunting and fishing areas, more and more decisions must be made at the state level that impact wildlife management and access to public lands and waters.

While the caucus will play a role in making those decisions, it will rely heavily on a group already organized and working, the South Carolina Legislative Sportsmen’s Caucus Foundation. The foundation’s board comprises representatives of hunting and fishing organizations and sportsmen-related business interests across the state who will serve as a conduit for information between the grass-roots sportsmen and the legislative caucus.

“The foundation will be a support organization for the caucus and will be key in helping determine the direction of legislation to protect our outdoor heritage for the future,” Pitts said.