On Tuesday, Jan. 22, the SC Senate passed a proposed new bill to legalize deer baiting in Game Zones 1 and 2. The proposal seeks to delete the prohibition on the controversial issue by removing from the current law the phrase “and it is unlawful to bait for deer” in regards to the aforementioned zones. Thus, the new wording would simply read “In Game Zones 1 & 2, it is unlawful to pursue deer with dogs.”
The measure passed in a 22-15 vote. Sen. Shane Massey voted negatively to this proposal.
The bill received its third reading the following day and was then sent to the House of Representatives. The House introduced and read the bill for the first time Thursday, Jan. 24. It was subsequently sent to the Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs.
The Advertiser spoke with Sen. Massey, Monday, Jan. 28, in regards to his negative vote on this issue. As this bill essentially legalizes deer baiting across the state, Sen. Massey stated “it makes sense that we treat everybody the same,” but he went on to say that he voted no to this measure because he felt not enough time and attention was given to the alternate idea of a state-wide baiting ban. He said that while the Senators heard from DNR, who interestingly supported this bill, he did not feel enough time was made available to hear from sportsmen across the state for their opinions on this issue. Sen. Massey said he felt the bill was a “very quick reaction to allow it [deer baiting] state-wide.”
Rep. Bill Hixon, who serves on the wildlife committee before whom the bill now resides, also spoke to The Advertiser Monday. Rep. Hixon, who is an avid hunter and a supporter of deer baiting, stated he would be voting in favor of the bill. He also went on to say that this bill merely clarifies for DNR law enforcers what has been a grey area since the SC Attorney General’s ruling on the previous deer baiting law. That law had a loop-hole in that it did not clearly state that it was illegal to bait deer and hunt for deer over bait. This loop hole will essentially be closed with the passage of the new bill. However, as Rep. Hixon reminded The Advertiser, even without the passage of this new bill, because of the aforementioned attorney general’s ruling, state-wide baiting is for all intents and purposes legal already.
For their part in this matter, the Department of Natural Resources, as noted by Sen. Massey, did support this new bill. However, this appears to be a direct contradiction to the agency’s views on the matter as late as Feb. of last year. At that time, and as previously reported by The Advertiser, minutes from a DNR board meeting record how DNR staff was directed to seek legislation prohibiting hunting over bait in Game Zones 1 & 2.
So what changed for DNR? According to DNR official Emily Cope, who spoke with The Advertiser on Mon. and who also testified before the Senate in regards to this bill, nothing. “DNR’s position [on deer baiting] has not changed,” said Ms. Cope. As she explained, DNR supported this new measure because they needed the issue clarified. As the law was written, the grey areas left DNR law enforcement at a disadvantage as to how to handle the whole deer baiting issue. Clarification, by a clear, defining law, would enable the department to have sound footing when it comes to enforcement and prosecution regarding the matter.
When asked why other measures, such as the re-introduction of a ban on baiting in Zones 1 & 2, were not undertaken, Ms. Cope said DNR advised the Senate of all the possible ways this issue could be handled and that the general consensus between Senators seemed to be that no other measure would receive support at this. As to future bills regarding baiting deer in the state, Ms. Cope said that DNR can only advise the legislature on wildlife matters and cannot introduce legislation on its own. However, time will tell if other law makers want to see different measures put into place if alternate legislation is offered in the future.
The Advertiser will continue to follow the progress of this bill as it make its was through the House and give up-dates to this story as warranted. The bill is scheduled to be heard before a sub-committee of the Committee on Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Environmental Affairs on Wed., Jan. 30.