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2/13/2013 8:26:00 AM
Pierce bills deal with pot, more flexible hunting fees
Sen. Steve Pierce
Sen. Steve Pierce

Joanna Dodder Nellans
Special to the Tribune


Sen. Steve Pierce of rural Prescott is sponsoring only a half-dozen bills so far, but at least two of them deal with issues of statewide interest.

One would restrict the location of marijuana farms, while another would give the Arizona Game and Fish Department much more flexibility in setting fee levels for hunting and fishing licenses.

Pierce said he gets a lot of requests for bills that he doesn't fill.

"If you're a true conservative, you want fewer laws not more, and I believe in that," said Pierce, a rancher who grew up in Arizona.

Pierce also has four "placeholder" bills that are listed as technical corrections, in case he needs them for other reasons.

He plans to use at least one to help the Arizona Department of Racing increase penalties against horsemen who violate the law, he said.

Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, a stalwart opponent of medical marijuana, asked Pierce to sponsor Senate Bill 1098.

The bill makes it clear that marijuana is not an agricultural crop that state law exempts from county zoning on properties larger than five acres.

The bill follows the spirit of the medical marijuana initiative that voters approved in November 2010, because the Medical Marijuana Act allows local governments to enact reasonable zoning restrictions, Polk said.

Polk said she fears that patients and caregivers might form co-ops to grow as many as 12 plants per patient wherever they want under current law. That could include land next to schools, churches and dense residential areas.

"Cultivation of marijuana brings with it safety and security issues, including the chances of increased crime and violence, and the kind of intense cultivation that a co-op threatens would become a nightmare for the citizens living near the site as well as local law enforcement," Polk said.

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission asked Pierce to sponsor Senate Bill 1223. The Senate Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee unanimously approved it Wednesday.

Currently the commission needs legislative approval to increase license, permit, tag and stamp fees. The bill would allow the commission to change these fees without legislative approval.

The agency has set up a special web page to explain its reasoning behind this change in the law. Citizens can access it via azgfd.gov. It already conducted public hearings around the state including one in Prescott.

It can take the commission three years or more to change its fee structure under the current law, the Game and Fish website said. It notes that the agency gets no state fund money and survives mainly on its own hunting and fishing fees.

"For an agency to operate like a business, it must have the ability to react to changing conditions or customer needs in a timely manner," the web page says.

If the Legislature approves the bill, Game and Fish would conduct two commission hearings with a 30-day public comment between the hearings before implementing permanent fee changes or new products, the site says.

Temporary fee reductions could be approved through one public commission meeting.

Examples of fees that could be more flexible under the new law are discounted hunting licenses for youth and leftover hunt tags.

The agency hasn't raised fees since 2007 and any increases wouldn't take place until at least 2014, the website says.

The bill would eliminate the Waterfowl Conservation Fund that gets money from duck stamps, putting that money into the agency's general fund like other stamps.

The agency would produce an annual report about its license and fee structure. A legislative committee would review fee and license changes every five years during a public meeting.


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