Category: Legislation

Missouri Legislative Update – House Edition (Spencer & Brown Take On The MDC)

MO State Capitol
Image courtesy of


The House Takes Aim at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Pocketbook

With Senate Bills 56, 178, 337, Joint Resolution 1, and Concurrent Resolution 25; Senator Munzlinger (R) of the 18th district is leading the charge in the Senate to establish some form of legislative control over the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC).  Now that you’re up to speed on the Senate side of things, it’s time to examine the legislation coming out of the House to kick off Missouri’s 2015 legislative session.  Representatives Bryan Spencer (R) of the 63rd district and Wanda Brown1 (R) of the 116th district have introduced 6 bills between them, targeting the Department of Conservation’s funding, enforcement requirements, and leadership activities.  Despite Rep. Spencer and Brown’s onslaught of bills, it’s the bill introduced by Rep. Craig Redmon (R) of the 1st district that has proven the most controversial.

Here’s a summary of the proposed legislation coming out of the House, including Rep. Redmon’s challenge to the MDC’s primary source of funding – the Conservation Sales Tax:

House Joint Resolution 8: Proposed by Representative Craig Redmon (R), 1st District – First read – 1/7/15

Current Status: Withdrawn (1/28/15)

Summary: Proposes a constitutional provision repealing the Conservation sales and use tax.

Despite being on the books for less than a month, proposed constitutional amendment HJR8 created a political firestorm by threatening to repeal 60%2 of the MDC’s funding if approved by voters.  After the legislation was introduced, the MDC argued the loss of its primary funding source would put many of Missouri’s popular conservation programs in jeopardy.  In response to HJR8 and Sen. Munzlinger’s SR56, the Conservation Department’s Deputy Director, Tim Ripperger stated:

 “It would impact more than just sportsmen in the state, it would be a huge loss and impact on the entire conservation program,”

Assistant director of the department, Aaron Jeffries, expanded on the scope of the impact the loss of funding would have on the department’s programs when he noted:

“There wouldn’t be a program that wouldn’t be affected.  There would be an impact on everything from our management programs to our shooting ranges to hatcheries.”

Rep. Redmon has argued that he had no intention of having the resolution pass and reach voters, saying:

“To just put this thing flat out there — ‘Do you want it? Or don’t you?’ — would be a dangerous, dangerous thing.  In this climate, I’d say it would fail. And I’d say that would be devastating.”

Since withdrawing HJR8, Rep. Redmon seems to have distanced himself from Sen. Munzlinger and other lawmakers3, who are trying to wrest control of the Conservation Department’s funding sources, by classifying his proposed legislation as a “shot across the bow”, “to get conservation’s attention”.  Whether Rep. Redmon was merely reacting to the backlash4 over his proposal, or his original intention  was indeed to start a discussion over the sales tax, HJR8 was a short-lived wake-up call to the MDC and its many supporters, that certain GOP lawmakers may pose a true existential threat to the department as it is currently structured.

House Joint Resolution 27: Proposed by Representative Bryan Spencer (R), 63rd District – First read – 1/13/15

Current Status: Second Read – 1/14/15

Summary: Proposes a constitutional provision reducing the Conservation sales tax from 1/8 to 1/16 of a cent.

If approved by voters, Rep. Spencer’s proposed provision to Missouri’s constitution would halve the Conservation sales tax from 0.125% to 0.0625%.  If reduced to 1/16 of a cent, the conservation sales tax would generate approximately $50 million, as opposed to the approximately $100 million average annual input it currently provides the MDC.  While not as severe as Rep. Redmon’s proposal to do away with the sales tax altogether, Rep. Spencer has not portrayed his legislation as a discussion-starter, but rather a true desire to reduce departmental funding in an attempt to increase accountability of the MDC to taxpayers and to provide checks and balances to the MDC’s management of its financial resources.  In Rep. Spencer’s recent Capital Report, he outlines his view that MDC exists on an island:

“the Department has been described as an independent, autonomous, self-regulated department that is not accountable to the taxpayers and has no checks and balances”

and he makes clear that he sides with the captive deer industry and the American Cervid Alliance (who linked to this Capital Report) in his belief that the MDC and other state agencies have unfairly blamed the captive deer industry for the introduction and spread of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) through the transport of captive cervids:

“Is MDC bringing in diseases by elk introduction that may hurt the deer population in Missouri? Are the MDC blaming the cervid farmers for the MDC actions or what can accrue naturally? So far, the answer appears to be unknown.”

Rep. Spencer was a proponent of last year’s failed attempt to reclassify livestock to include captive cervids, which would have allowed for the transfer of regulatory authority from the MDC to the Department of Agriculture5.  As discussed previously, Sen. Munzlinger reopened the issue with SB178, but faces an uphill climb if the bill is not included in a package that would force Governor Nixon to reconsider using his veto pen again.  The American Cervid Alliance (ACA), which represents 39 elk, deer, and exotic associations, has used its PR firm to place op-eds in papers throughout the state under the names of its allies – including certain GOP lawmakers.  Recently, Rep. Spencer accused the ACA of submitting an op-ed to several different news sources under his name, which included content that was not authorized by him6.  This admission took place 3 days after Rep. Spencer and Rep. Bill Reiboldt (R) -160th District, received an email from me questioning identical passages that appeared in documents they had authored independently of one another7.  It is impossible to understand the legislative attack against the MDC without also understanding the desire of the captive deer industry to have its allies in the Missouri legislature gain control over some of the MDC’s decision making.

House Joint Resolution 28: Proposed by Representative Bryan Spencer (R), 63rd District – First read – 1/13/15

Current Status: Second Read – 1/14/15

Summary: Proposes a constitutional amendment requiring the conservation sales tax to be approved by voters every 10 years.

HJR28 is Rep. Spencer’s proposal to sunset the Conservation Sales tax, in order to increase accountability of the MDC to the tax payers that help fund the department through the tax.  If approved by voters, this amendment would place the tax before the voters and would either be approved or eliminated in 2016, 2018, and every 10 years thereafter.  Missouri’s Soil and Park Tax (1/10th of 1 cent), passed in 1984, undergoes periodic “reassessment”, and appearing on the ballot every 10 years.  Rep. Spencer has argued that a sunset provision would allow the department to gauge it’s public approval:

“Since 1976, the department has not been accountable to the people in any way, shape or form.”  Bringing the issue of the sales tax to the people is the perfect time for people to say that conservation is doing a great job, we want to continue to fund them at that level. [The department] should want this bill.”

While imposing a sunset provision on a tax forces the recipient to “sell” the tax to voters by outlining how the money is being used effectively, the possibility of a loss of funding could negatively impact long-term planning, which is particularly important in the realm of managing the state’s natural resources.

HJR28 isn’t the first piece of legislation (nor will it be the last) aimed at identifying an endpoint to an indefinite tax.  Sen. John Cauthorn (R) of the 21st district introduced 2012’s HJR22  proposing to sunset the tax and place it before voters every 10 years, but the measure failed to make it out of committee.  While past proposals failed to make it before voters, the indefinite nature of the Conservation Sales Tax will always make it a popular target for lawmakers who believe the MDC should have to scrap for cash like every other state governmental organization.  The conservation department and its allies will continue to argue that it was a voter-led initiative to create the tax without a sunset clause in 1974 and the will of the people should not be altered after the fact.

House Bill 315: Proposed by Representative Wanda Brown (R), 116th District – First read – 1/7/15

Current Status: Second Read – 1/8/15

Summary: Requires the Department of Conservation to conduct testing of diseased deer found along state highways for chronic wasting disease.

While none of the bills proposed by Rep. Brown have the weight of those introduced by Sen. Munzlinger or Reps. Redmon and Spencer, each would impose new restrictions and impact the department’s bottom line.  HB315 places new constraints on the MDC’s Chronic Wasiting Disease testing program by expanding the testing effort to include deer killed my motorists.  CWD is an always-fatal disease of the brain impacting animals of the cervid family (Deer, Elk, etc.).  While there are no known cases of CWD spreading to humans, the CDC recommends not eating meat from harvested deer infected with the disease.  CWD could negatively impact the important economic benefits associated with the state’s robust hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities.  The department started testing wild White-tailed deer for CWD in 2001 and found the first instance of the disease in 2010, when it located infected deer in captive deer preserves in Linn and Macon counties.  The disease was also found in wild deer near the captive deer facilities.

The MDC currently tests deer within the CWD containment zone, an area that covers Chariton, Randolph, Macon, Linn, Sullivan, and Adair counties in the north-central portion of the state.  The MDC believes that CWD wasn’t present in the state until it was introduced by way of the captive deer facilities in Macon and Linn counties.  The American Cervid Alliance and its allies in the House and Senate point to the cases of CWD among wild deer herds8 and the possibility of infection by way of Elk re-introductions as reason enough to spare the captive deer industry from the brunt of the blame.  By forcing the MDC to conduct CWD testing on deer killed along state highways, Rep. Brown’s bill would drastically increase the cost of the MDC’s CWD testing program.  As more deer continue to become infected within the state of Missouri (24 since 2010), the MDC will need to allocate more resources to halting the spread of CWD.  It remains to be seen how costly the testing of roadside deer would be, but utilizing the associated testing resources as part of a coordinated testing program would most likely be more efficient and effective.

House Bill 316: Proposed by Representative Wanda Brown (R), 116th District – First read – 1/7/15

Current Status: Second Read – 1/8/15

Summary: Requires Conservation Commission members to register as lobbyists upon appointment by the Governor, and to follow all lobbyists rules and regulations.

Like Sen. Munzlinger’s SB337, Brown’s HB316 takes aim at the members of the department’s governing body – the Conservation Commissioners.  SB337 stemmed from a 2013 audit of the department that found 2 of the 4 commissioners had failed to report their service as board members for nonprofits contracted by the MDC.  Brown’s bill would force commission members, upon their appointment by the Governor, to register as lobbyists.  Registered lobbyists in the state of Missouri are required to file monthly reports with the Missouri Ethics Commission, detailing money spent on behalf of elected officials and proposed legislation they actively favor or oppose.  The Missouri Ethics Commission defines lobbyists as:

“an individual who attempts to influence state executive, state legislative or state judicial actions and meets one or more of the following:

  • Is acting in the ordinary course of business
  • Is engaged in pay as a lobbyist
  • Is designated to act as a lobbyist by any person, business entity, governmental entity, religious organization, nonprofit corporation, association or other entity
  • Spends $50 or more on behalf of public officials, annually, from January 1 through December 31st

An elected local government official’s lobbyist is an individual employed specifically for the purpose of attempting to influence any action by a local government official elected in a county”

Rep. Brown is certainly stretching the definition of lobbyist beyond its normal bounds by targeting government officials appointed by the sitting Governor.  It remains to be seen exactly what consequences this legislation would have on the current actions of the commissioners, but it’s a clear attempt to disrupt the actions of the commission and impact their expenditures.

House Bill 317: Proposed by Representative Wanda Brown (R), 116th District – First read – 1/7/15

Current Status: Second Read – 1/8/15

Summary: Requires the Department of Conservation to reimburse automobile owners up to $500 for damages inflicted upon their vehicles by deer.

Rep. Brown’s HB317 essentially places ownership of Missouri’s robust deer herd squarely on the shoulders of the MDC and holds the department accountable for any damages associated with their “property”.  From a population of approximately 400 in 1925 to more than 1 million currently, Missouri’s population of wild deer ranks among the highest in the country9.  With a total of 3,563 deer-car collisions in 2011, the MDC would have been on the hook for over $1.7 million.  While that amount is just a fraction of the department’s nearly $150 million budget, it would certainly result in trimming a portion of that budget elsewhere.  In addition to the costs associated with deer-car collisions, it’s possible that HB317 could open the door to new bills targeting other damage to private property associated with Missouri wildlife.

House Bill 318: Proposed by Representative Wanda Brown (R), 116th District – First read – 1/7/15

Current Status: Second Read – 1/8/15

Summary: Prohibits Department of Conservation agents from entering poultry barns without notifying the owner and requires agents entering the barns to take necessary precautions to prevent contamination.

While legislation aimed at the Missouri Department of Conservation ins’t new, the sheer breadth of bills proposed that would impact the department’s funding, leadership structure, and regulatory authority is unique.  While Sen. Munzlinger has backed off eliminating permit fees altogether and Rep. Redmon never truly intended to put the Conservation Sales tax before the voters, any of the remaining bills could have a lasting impact on the statewide conservation strategy should they move through congress.  Governor Nixon has shown his willingness to pull out his veto pen and go to bat for the MDC, but should a republican take over the top statewide office – all bets are off.

  1. You may recall Rep. Brown’s appearance on the Daily Show discussing 2012’s HB 1621
  2. As discussed in the Senate Legislative Update, the Missouri Department of Conservation receives approximately 60% of its funding by way of the sales tax, with the remaining 40% coming primarily from permit fees and related federal reimbursement dollars. 
  3. The absence of Representative Redmon’s name from a recent editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch titled, “Department of Conservation avoids questions about internal operations”, is telling – as the editorial was signed by a who’s-who of GOP lawmakers targeting the MDC. 
  4. Lawmakers, like Representative Spencer prefer the Depart of Agriculture to manage captive deer, despite the deparment’s lack of desire to take over regulatory control, and the belief by CWD experts that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has “dropped the ball” on “coordinating a multi-state response to it”
  5. When questioned about HJR8, Senator Redmon said, “When I introduced my bill, I was crucified. People called me a conservation hater, that I was trying to bring down the conservation department. But that wasn’t my intent at all. I think the Department of Conservation has done a good job. Still, I wanted to open up a dialogue about the department’s accountability, and I think we accomplished that. This tax has no sunset or review process, and I don’t agree with that. There have to be checks and balances in place.” 
  6. Tony Messenger, Editorial Page Editor at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, recently had an interesting take on those lawmakers beholden to the ACA titled, “FOUL: The revenge of the captive lawmaker”
  7. The section titled, “Current Sales Tax collected by the state” in Representative Spencer’s ‘Capital Report’ is identical to 2 paragraphs in Representative Reiboldt’s op-ed in the Neosho Daily News titled, “Bill Reiboldt: Representative talks about history of Missouri Department of Conservation” (which also appeared on his Missouri House site under the title, “Explaining the Conservation Tax”).  I’m still waiting on a response. 
  8. The Missouri Department of Conservation recently announced that 11 new cases of CWD have been identified in Macon, Adair and Cole counties. The infected buck harvested in Cole county marks the first instance of CWD outside (40 miles south) of the containment zone. 
  9. Though interestingly enough, Missouri doesn’t crack the top 10 in States with the highest deer-car collision rates (MO comes in at #17). 

Missouri Legislative Update – Senate Edition (Munzlinger vs. The MDC)

 MDC Logo

MDC in the legislative crosshairs

The start of Missouri’s legislative session signaled the continuation of a back-and-forth battle between a group of GOP lawmakers and the state’s Department of Conservation.  The general assembly has proposed 12 pieces of legislation1 targeting the Missouri Department of Conservation’s (MDC) funding, regulatory control, leadership structure, enforcement activity, and land ownership.

Proponents of the proposed legislation cite the need for increased accountability of the Conservation Department to taxpayers who help fund the department through the 1/8th of 1 percent Conservation Sales tax passed in 1976.  Unlike Missouri’s Soil and Park Tax2 (1/10th of 1 percent), which is approved by voters every 10 years, the conservation sales tax lacks a sunset clause.  The sales tax averages ~$100 million of annual revenue for the department and represents nearly 60% of the department’s budget, with the majority of the remaining 40% (~$50 million) coming from the collection of permit fees (~20%) and associated federal reimbursement dollars (~15%).3  None of the department’s funding comes from general revenue.

The Conservation Department has cautioned that any reduction in funding levels could jeopardize the entire state conservation program and points out that the $150 million budget of the department, which represents less than 1% of the total state budget, results in annual revenue of $12 billion from hunting, fishing, and forest products.4  The Department enjoys broad public support, as evidenced by 2013 polling numbers from the University of Missouri, which found ⅔ of those questioned believed the department was doing an “excellent” or “good” job.  The battle lines have been drawn and there’s a lot of proposed legislation to unpack, so let’s get started.

 Here’s a rundown of the proposed legislation coming out of the Senate:

Senate Bill 56: Proposed by Senator Munzlinger (R), 18th District –  First read – 1/7/15

Current Status: Hearing conducted (2/25/15)- Senate Agriculture, Food Production, and Outdoor Resources Committee

Summary: Proposed legislation modifying hunting, fishing, and trapping permit fees for Missouri residents.

As it was originally introduced, this bill would have stripped the Conservation Department of the ability to charge fees associated with permits for Missouri residents, with the exception of no more than $2 in service fees.  Senator Munzlinger recently softened the bill’s language following the revelation by the MDC that federal law required state wildlife agencies to collect permit fees in order to receive matching federal funds5 – funds that would have been rerouted to other states if permit fees were no longer collected.  Senator Munzlinger has proposed a 50% permit fee discount for non-residents that own at least 80 acres of land in Missouri in place of the original bill language.

Senate Bill 178: Proposed by Senator Munzlinger (R), 18th District – First read – 1/29/15

Current Status: Second read (1/29/15) and referred to Senate Government Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee.

Summary: Proposed legislation to modify provisions relating to captive cervids.

2015’s SB 178 is a replica of Senator Munzlinger’s 2014 legislation (SB 506), which would have added captive deer to the definition of livestock.  Reclassifying captive deer would transfer regulatory authority from the Department of Conservation to the Department of Agriculture.  This transfer would ease restrictions on the captive deer (high-fence, “fish-in-a-barrel” hunting) industry.  2014’s bill moved through the Senate and the House before meeting Governor Nixon’s veto pen.  In a statement regarding the bill (and House Bill 1326), Nixon said:6

“Redefining deer as livestock to remove the regulatory role of Department defies both its clear record of achievement as well as common sense. White-tailed deer are wildlife and also game animals – no matter if they’re roaming free, or enclosed in a fenced area.”

Battle lines have been drawn over the issue of captive deer regulatory control, with the American Cervid Alliance (representing 39 elk, deer, and exotic associations) hiring the notorious PR firm Berman & Co.7 to help change public opinion of the captive deer industry through the creation of nonprofit corporations and the placement of messages throughout local media from supportive lawmakers8 and industry insiders.  Governor Nixon has maintained the Conservation Department’s constitutional authority over the management of wildlife and the department has pointed to the risk the industry poses for the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease9 (CWD) among wild deer as justification for the more stringent regulations passed since the veto.

The new regulations, which the captive deer industry believe will cripple their businesses, include: banning the importation of deer from other states, testing diseased deer at least 6 months old for CWD, and installing 8-foot tall fencing.  Governor Nixon recently summarized the argument for supporting the status quo:

“I think sticking with the model we’ve had in the past, an independent organization that has direct dedicated fund is focused just on that, that gives them the flexibility and the responsibility to make a good long term decision to give us a better strategy to keep Chronic Wasting Disease out of Missouri and to keep our deer herd healthy”.

Senate Bill 337: Proposed by Senator Munzlinger (R), 18th District – First read – 1/28/15

Current Status: Second read (2/19/15) and referred to Senate Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions, and Ethics Committee.

Summary:  Bans the Conservation Commission and the Department of Conservation from engaging in prohibited conduct with a connected not-for-profit corporation.

This proposal stems directly from the results of a 2013 audit of the Conservation Department by state auditor Tom Schweich, that uncovered conflicts of interest associated with 2 of the 4 conservation commissioners.  The commissioners had violated state law by failing to disclose that they were serving on boards for non-for-profit corporations contracted by the MDC.  That same 2013 audit found that the MDC had provided pay raises that had not been provided to other state employees and that the MDC failed to accurately estimate the costs of an elk reintroduction project (129 had been introduced as of the 2013 report) that ballooned from an estimated cost of $411,000 to an actual cost of $3,381,615.

The 2013 audit gave the MDC a “Good” grade, which describes a “well managed” organization that “has indicated that most or all recommendations have already been, or will be, implemented” and that “prior recommendations have been implemented”.  The pay raises and the price tag of the elk introduction10 have been the primary talking points for GOP lawmakers and the allies of the captive deer industry trying to make the case for reigning in the department’s spending.  This bill could potentially impact many of the MDC’s conservation efforts, as it would jeopardize partnerships with nonprofit organizations, such as The Audubon Society of Missouri, that play significant roles in monitoring and managing wildlife statewide.

Senate Joint Resolution 1: Proposed by Senator Munzlinger (R), 18th District – First read – 1/7/15

Current Status: Second read (2/5/15) and referred to Senate Agriculture, Food Production, and Outdoor Resources Committee.

Summary: Modifies the membership composition and terms of service of the commissioners on the Conservation Commission.

If approved by voters, this proposed constitutional amendment would increase the number of Conservation Commissioners from 4 to 8 and would require one commissioner to be appointed from each of the 8 conservation regions.  This amendment would also change the term limits for commissioners from 6 years to either 2 terms or 12 years – whichever comes first.  Senator Munzlinger’s argument for altering the composition of the commission comes down to taxpayer representation.  “Northeast Missouri hasn’t had someone on the commission in more than 35 years“, stated Senator Munzlinger when asked about the resolution.

Opponents to the measure maintain that the current structure – 4 commissioners appointed by the governor, with no more than 2 from the same political party – has largely kept politics out of departmental decision-making.  If commissioners are advocating for specific constituents, the argument goes, resources will be fought over, rather than shared for a holistic long-term conservation plan with the entire state in mind.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 25: Proposed by Senator Munzlinger (R), 18th District – Offered – 2/19/15

Current Status: Referred (2/23/15) to Senate Rules, Joint Rules, Resolutions and Ethics committee.

Summary: Establishes the Missouri Wildlife Revitalization Task Force.

While this resolution lacks the force of law, it does initiate a process that would focus research and proposed legislation and/or other proposals to minimize the negative impacts on areas of the state that are currently, or will be, dealing with Chronic Wasting Disease.  While there exists no evidence of transmission of CWD from animal to human, the presence of the disease poses serious health threats to deer populations and to public perceptions surrounding deer hunting and the consumption of venison.  This resolution effectively aims to do what the Conservation Department is tasked with by law, manage wildlife populations.

While the task force lacks teeth and cannot force the Conservation Department’s hand, it will be able to “call upon any department, office, division, or agency of this state to assist in gathering information pursuant to its objective”.  The task force will consist of a combination of lawmakers, conservation and hunting organization representatives, landowners in affected areas, and captive deer industry representatives.  The task force is set to be terminated by either a majority vote or by December 31, 2015, at which time a final report will be issued to the general assembly and the Department of Conservation.

Coordinated legislative effort

 After the veto of 2014’s Senate Bill 506, Senator Munzlinger has only redoubled his efforts to influence the funding, regulatory authority, and leadership composition of the Conservation Department.  The slew of legislation taking aim at the MDC isn’t Senator Munzlinger’s crusade alone, as evidenced by the many bills introduced in the House.  Stay tuned for the House edition of the “Missouri Legislative Update” with a focus on the Department of Conservation.

  1. Plus 1 Concurrent Resolution (SCR 25) for good measure. 
  2. Approved by voters in 1984, half of this tax goes towards the funding of Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources Division of State Parks. Some lawmakers have argued that many voters in 1976 wrongly believed that the conservation sales tax would help fund the maintenance of Missouri state parks. 
  3. see MDC 2012-2013 Annual Report and MDC 2014-2015 Budget Request 
  4. Revenue based on a 2011 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recreation survey
  5. The Pittmon-Robertson Act of 1937 provides funds to each state for wildlife management based upon land area and the number of permitted hunters. 
  6. Governor Nixon’s veto message can be viewed here
  7. Several high-profile pieces have been written about Richard B. Berman and his PR firm. Here are just a few
  8. Representative Bryan Spencer recently accused the ACA and their PR firm of submitting an op-ed with unauthorized content to several Missouri newspapers under his name. I have found additional “shared content” used by Representative Spencer and Representative Bill Reiboldt in recent op-eds/newsletters. This is a clear example of the captive deer industry using sympathetic lawmakers as their mouthpiece. 
  9. INDYSTAR’s Ryan Sabalow brought to light many of the issues surrounding Chronic Wasting Disease and the captive deer industry in his incredible investigative piece, “Buck Fever”
  10. The captive deer industry has also pointed to the department’s Elk introduction as a possible source for CWD transmission among wild cervids.