Family canoeing near a riverbank.

Engaged supporters like you make all the difference for conservation policy work.

For nearly three-quarters of a century, Tennessee Wildlife Federation has been on Capitol Hill monitoring bills that affect fish and wildlife. We work with legislators to find effective solutions to our state’s greatest conservation needs.

This year, as state funding and priorities quickly changed to handle the pandemic, the Federation’s work to track legislation and challenge bills that would negatively impact our great outdoors was more important than ever.

Here are just a few of the bills and amendments the Federation’s policy team worked on this session.

Quick Links to the Issues

Bill: No Accountability on Public Waters (HB1243/SB0751)

The Federation’s Position: Opposed

Status: Dead

Summary: As introduced, exempts commercial operators who rent non-motorized watercraft to the public and who only access public waters by private property from the Wildlife Resource Commission’s regulations for non-motorized vessels.

Our Role: Last year, the Commission put basic rules in place for these operators that require they get a permit, meet safety standards, and document how many commercial trips they are putting on our public rivers. This bill would create a loophole similar to someone saying they don’t need to follow traffic rules on public roads because they access the road from a private driveway. The Federation continued its Share Our Rivers campaign to show the need for basic rules for private companies operating on our public waterways.

Bill: Assisting Licensed Hunters (HB2494/SB2300)

The Federation’s Position: In favor

Status: Passed

Summary: As introduced, specifies that a sportsman’s license is not required in order to assist a person with a disability who is fishing or hunting if certain requirements are met, including completing a form and the assistant following certain laws.

Our Role: As it was originally introduced, we were concerned this bill could make it difficult for wildlife officers to enforce unlicensed hunting/fishing. But we are sensitive to the fact disabled individuals may need assistance to engage in our great outdoors. So, the Federation worked with sponsors to amend the bill to keep assistance available while preventing an unlicensed helper from holding the firearm or fishing rod, which would have made enforcement difficult.

Bill: No More Free Plastic Bags (HB2369/SB2131)

The Federation’s Position: In favor

Status: Deferred to summer study committee

Summary: As introduced, prohibits grocery stores, retail stores, and food service businesses from providing free paper or plastic bags to customers.

Our Role: The Federation supported this bill as a way to meaningfully start an even bigger discussion of how materials are used and discarded in Tennessee. Single-use items, particularly plastic bags, have notable impacts on the environment and the public, including big costs for farmers. This includes contributing to the 32 million microplastics the Tennessee River dumps into the Ohio every single second.

Bill: Litter Bill with a Dark Side (HB1957/SB1900)

The Federation’s Position: Opposed as written

Status: Dead

Summary: As introduced, extends until June 30, 2027 the temporary tax on bottles of soft drinks and barrels of beer to fund programs for the prevention and collection of litter. This bill is led by the beverage industry and would automatically defund the grants that remove millions of pounds of litter from Tennessee each year if the state passes container deposit legislation. It is designed to protect the interests of the beverage industry and not our outdoors being damaged by litter.

Our Role: The Federation shared concerns with sponsors about the automatic defunding written into the bill and the need for heavy amendments.

Bill: Unconstitutional Hunting Rulemaking (HB0231/SB0223)

The Federation’s Position: Opposed

Status: Failed

Summary: As introduced, enacts “Ben’s Law,” which authorizes municipalities to regulate the use of baited traps within their territorial jurisdictions.

Our Role: This bill would take authority away from TWRA to set science-based hunting regulations statewide. Per the Tennessee State Constitution, municipalities do not have the authority to regulate hunting and fishing, which includes trapping. This would also begin to return the state to the patchwork of rules that poorly managed wildlife in the early 1900s. The Federation worked aggressively to keep science-based wildlife management decisions with the TWRA.

Bill: Qualifying for a Lifetime Senior Sporting License (HB1861/SB1978)

The Federation’s Position: Neutral

Status: Failed

Summary: As introduced, allows Tennessee residents to pay the fee set by the commission for a permanent hunting and fishing license at any time during the calendar year the resident turns 65 instead of after the resident’s birth date.

Our Role: This bill would likely offer some benefit to some individuals while requiring a change in processes at TWRA. This bill was voted down. Lawmakers objected to creating an exception that no other group currently enjoys.

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