A bill that would reduce low level fishing and hunting crimes in Louisiana to civil penalties took a step forward toward becoming law Wednesday. House Bill 655 removes the possibility of imprisonment for crimes such as possessing an undersized commercial fish.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Chad Brown (D-Plaquemine) who said the legislation would reduce the number of low level offenses clogging up the dockets of district courts. “Our dockets across this state in our criminal court system are backlogged,” he said.
Under current law, low level offenders are haunted by criminal records, said Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet. “It really is a huge obstacle in order for them to overcome that,” he said. “And it doesn’t make any sense to have a criminal violation for not having a life jacket or fire extinguisher or not having the boat numbers on the boat.”
HB 655 would remove the criminal penalties for low level wildlife crimes and send the violations to the division of administrative law. The bill could also increase revenues for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries because many of the current violations of this nature do not get prosecuted, meaning the department does not get its portion of monetary penalties, Rep. Brown said. The department is in danger of a $16 million shortfall this year.
The dollar amounts for penalties would stay the same under the proposed legislation. But a few offenses would be reduced under the bill, including reporting violations for freshwater mussel harvesting and violating an emergency closure of hunting or fishing seasons. The bill advanced out of the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee without opposition Wednesday.
Rep. Brown said he had a constituent who was unable to get into law school in another state because he had a low level wildlife crime on his record. Rep. Mack Marcel Cormier (D-Belle Chasse) praised the bill and said growing up in Buras 90% of his friends were on probation for wildlife violations.