BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana hunting and fishing license charges will rise next year across an array of commercial and recreational categories, under a bill that lawmakers sent to the governor Tuesday to help shore up the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries' budget.

A 78-20 House vote gave final passage to the bill by Republican Rep. Tony Bacala, reversing course from two years earlier when lawmakers in the chamber blocked a similar proposal. The Senate unanimously backed the measure Monday. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to sign it into law.

The fee hikes and license restructuring will raise nearly $17 million for the agency in the budget year that starts in mid-2022 and will grow to about $19 million in later years, according to a nonpartisan financial analysis of the bill. The increased license charges begin in July 2022 for recreational license holders. They'll start in January 2022 for commercial license holders, but will be phased in through 2024.

The bill also will restructure the licenses, in an effort to streamline the complex system and lessen the number of licenses required for people who hunt and fish across multiple categories. For example, the cost of a basic fishing license will grow from $9.50 to $17, but it will now cover activities that once involved eight different recreational licenses for crab traps, crawfish traps and other types of fishing.

Bacala, of Prairieville, agreed to a series of adjustments to the measure as it moved through the House and Senate, stripping or lessening some of the fee hikes along the way and lengthening the phase-in period for the changes.

Opponents worried about the price hikes, particularly on the state's commercial fishing industries. Supporters said the bill will keep the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries financed largely by fees from those who hunt and fish and use the agencies' services and programs, rather than relying primarily on general state tax dollars.

The department depends on the Conservation Fund as one of its primary sources of financing. But collections for the fund have continued to fall annually since the 2015-16 budget year. The agency says revenue from oil and gas drilling in wildlife management areas is declining, and the state is seeing fewer dollars each year from licensing fees as more people buy lifetime hunting and fishing licenses.


The bill is filed as House Bill 691.


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