Congress leaves Washington with popular Sportsmen’s Act still on the table

Despite passage by both congressional chambers, a bipartisan sportsmen’s package was stuck in committee quicksand where lawmakers left it at the end of the session.

The Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act has been floating around Washington in several versions for over six years, with the latest stand-alone proposals largely folded into an energy bill that passed the Senate 85-12 in April and the House 241-178 in May.

However, despite more than 100 meetings in conference committee since then to hammer out differences between the two chambers’ respective versions, the legislation was never sent to the President by the lame duck Congress.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican who sponsored the package in the Senate, appealed to House leadership last week to give the bill its last push towards law.

“The House may want to claim that this bill cannot move forward because we are running out of time,” said Murkowski on the Senate floor. “The reality is that the House is attempting to run us out of time, in order to prevent this bill from moving forward, even though it contains the priorities of dozens of its members. I urge my House colleagues to reconsider and to allow our conference report to come up for a vote before we adjourn.”

Nonetheless, House Speaker Paul Ryan closed his chamber last week and the Senate followed suit on Saturday, closing out the 114th Congress with the Sportsman’s Act left in terminal limbo.

The far-reaching legislation included some 60 pages of modifications to current federal hunting, fishing and conservation laws.

First on the list would have been to preserve the use of traditional ammunition by making the current EPA exemptions permanent. Next, states would receive additional authority to use Pittman-Robertson funds to create public shooting ranges with less matching funds.

Additionally, Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service lands able to support recreational hunting and fishing would be mandated to be opened to sportsmen. To help ensure access to these areas, at least $10 million of annual Land and Water Conservation Funds would be allocated to provide for new roads.

Beyond this, the Corps of Engineers would be required to accept state law as it concerns the carrying of firearms on recreational land under its control. This topic has been the subject of both federal lawsuits and legislation in recent years.

Finally, three federal programs that direct tax dollars to conservation needs such as the enhancement of wetlands and attempting to counteract the damage from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill would be reauthorized through 2019.

Anti-hunting groups stumped against the bill arguing it pandered to special interests and was tilted towards trophy hunters and commercial trappers.

Gun rights groups, to include the National Rifle Association, welcomed the legislation. The group argued that an estimated 15 million hunters pump $38.3 billion into the economy, making the measure common sense.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, one of the biggest proponents of the Sportsmen’s Act over the years,  urged Ryan personally to take action on the proposal last week.

Now, with Congress out for the year, they are ready to start over.

“We would also like to express our thanks and appreciation for the thousands of American hunters, target shooters and gun owners who stood up for their traditions and contacted their senators and representatives during the sustained effort to pass this legislation during the 114th Congress,” the group said in a statement. “NSSF will be communicating about legislative priorities for the new Congress in January.”