Wildlife Trafficking Ban Survives After 2nd Chance In NH House
Much to the dismay of animal welfare and conservation advocates, a NH wildlife trafficking ban appeared to be dead on April 5th. However, despite some wounds, it has survived and is now on the path towards sanctuary.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service considers wildlife trafficking an international crisis, being not only a major contributor to the plummeting of some of our world's most magnificent species, but a threat to nature tourism funding, as well as to our global security; generating more than $10 billion a year for transnational organized criminal networks. Although seemingly a 'far away' issue, the US is one of the world's major markets for legal and illegal wildlife products, making US anti-wildlife trafficking laws essential. Additionally, all nation's have a general responsibility to contribute to the protection of our wildlife species, economy, and security.
Federal law prohibits the importation of parts from endangered and threatened species, such as elephant tusks, rhino horns, and cheetah skins. However, the sale of those items within our state borders is not illegal; a loophole that prevents law enforcement and officials from enforcing anti-wildlife trafficking laws in our state. SB 451 would prohibit the sale of the parts of 12 imperiled species, which will in-turn, ban wildlife trafficking in NH, and rectify that loophole.
SB 451 was passed unanimously by the Senate, had strong bi-partisan support, and its language was agreed upon by the NH Fish and Game Commission.
Miraculously, the language of the bill was also agreed upon by animal protection organization, the Humane Society of the United States, as well as strong trophy hunting advocates, the Safari Club International, a nearly impossible feat.
With that success under its belt, it seemed SB 451 would sail smoothly through the House. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
The bill hit its first speed bump in the House Fish and Game Committee, when House Majority Leader, Dick Hinch (Hillsborough- District 21), signed in as opposed to the bill, as he believed the language on antiques needed clarification. However, that was solved with an amendment adopted by the Committee on March 27th, and that Committee then passed the bill by a vote of 12-4.
Going into the full House on April 5th, the bill still looked relatively strong. Then out of nowhere came a blow that stopped it dead in its tracks.
Chairman Webb (Rockingham- District 06) of the House Fish and Game Committee made a motion to recommit the bill back to his Committee to fix some issues they found with the bill since passing it. He stated that the bill would penalize businesses and that it conflicted with a chapter in current law. However, there was no clear explanation provided as to what chapter or why.
The bill went into the house with no known opposition, and with the legislative season's deadlines rapidly approaching, as well as Webb's seemingly unsubstantiated statements, his motion appeared to be an attempt to kill the bill.
However, Webb later explained the complication was due to RSA 398:8, which requires that NH pawnbrokers retain items deposited to them for four months. SB 451 was written to be effective 60 days following its passing, which would be approximately 60 days short of that four-month requirement.
Whether or not it was indeed well-intended, however, the motion to recommit came with a price.
Following its return to the House Fish and Game Committee, the amendment adopted by the Committee didn't only change the bill's effective date to comply with RSA 398:8. In addition to other changes, a portion of the penalty section was removed, unnecessarily weakening the bill.
SB 451 originally included a penalty of a violation, as well as a fine up to $1,000 or 2 times the total value of the covered animal species part or product subject of the violation, whichever was greater. Considering the global and grave impact of wildlife trafficking, this was a very conservative approach as it was.
However, the latest amendment adopted by the House Fish and Game Committee on April 17th removed that enhanced monetary fine, leaving it at a violation only and the full House passed that version of the bill on April 26th.
According to Webb, he intended to change the bill's effective date only, but it was the perspective of other House Committee members that the penalty within the bill should be in line with the standard violation fines within NH law which max at $1,000.
A frustrating and curious turn of events considering the House Committee passed the bill with the original penalty section included on March 27th, yet less than a month later changed their perspective. Additionally, this could've been avoided had the motion to recommit never been made, and a floor amendment was introduced in its place.
Although floor amendments sometimes confuse the House, it's unlikely that a clear explanation of RSA 398:8 and a simple floor amendment changing the effective date would've caused an issue, and the House could've passed the stronger version of the bill on April 5th.
But even that is not where the story of SB 451 ends.
When the bill returned to the House for the second time on April 26th, Rep. James Spillane (Rockingham- District 02) made a motion to table the bill.
Spillane stood true to his reputation of making misleading statements on the floor, as he called SB 451 'superfluous' and asserted that the bill duplicated current NH and Federal Law.
As bill sponsor, Sen. Watters (Dover- District 4) testified to the Senate on January 16th, while current state law requires permits for importation into NH, it does not include the parts of all 12 species protected in SB 451. There are also no penalties for the violation of that permit law, nor any prohibition of the sale of those items. And again, federal law applies to interstate, not intrastate sales.
Rep. Cathryn Harvey's (Cheshire- District 1) words in opposition to the table motion were concise, and the ill-considered motion failed by the skin of its teeth, at an intensely close vote of 149-151.
But it still wasn't over.
Rep. J.R. Hoell (Merrimack- District 23) then moved to adopt a floor amendment to SB 451 that would allow loaded firearms to be carried on snowmobiles.
Named on the amendment, dated the day before the House vote, are Rep. Hoell, Rep. Spillane, Rep. John Burt (Hillsborough- District 39), and Rep. Howard Pearl (Merrimack- District 26).
Rep. Richard McNamara (Hillsborough- District 38) spoke in opposition to the amendment, reiterating that SB 451 intends to ban wildlife trafficking by prohibiting the sale of the parts of endangered species, such as elephants, jaguars, and cheetahs. "Frankly, I don't know of anyone who has recently shot a cheetah from their snowmobile," he said. "This amendment has nothing to do with trafficking..."
The House chuckled at McNamara's humorous yet factual statement, and the motion to adopt the amendment failed by another extremely close vote of 154-155.
The bill then passed the House with a voice vote. Unfortunately, the bill had already been relatively watered-down in the Senate, and although the House version included the additional undesirable changes made by the House Fish and Game Committee, the Senate concurred on May 2nd.
The bill will soon be headed to Governor Sununu's desk, and although not as strong as introduced, it survived the political games that continue to be played by our legislators.