Sunday, May 17, 2015

PA Deer License Sales System Debate

By Bob Frye 

This is going to be a fight.

The state House of Representatives game and fisheries committee held a hearing last week on House Bill 231, which would take away the exclusive right to sell doe licenses from county treasurers. Instead, hunters would be able to purchase them online or from any vendor when buying other licenses, all using the automated license system PALS.

Seems logical.

No other state requires hunters to navigate such a torturous paper trail to get a license to kill a deer.
This is the 21st century, right? You can deposit your paycheck instantly by taking a picture of it with your smartphone, but it takes two stamps, a pink envelope filled out in three places, a paper check and as long as four weeks to get a doe tag?

Surely there's a better way. But there are Pennsylvania-style politics to consider.

That was evident from the start. There are 25 lawmakers on the game and fisheries committee. Often, half or fewer attend any particular meeting.

This hearing drew a full house. Some came and went — other voting meetings were going on simultaneously — but in the meantime there was plenty of bickering.
Three people testified.

One, John Kline, director of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, said that group's delegates voted to support the bill by a 2-to-1 margin.

Another, Craig Ebersole, Lancaster County treasurer and chairman of the antlerless license committee for the Pennsylvania County Treasurers Association, said his group opposes the bill. It's unclear how it will benefit hunters, he said.


Rep. Keith Gillespie, the committee chairman, asked how giving hunters the chance to buy all of their licenses at once, in a “one-stop shop” experience, wouldn't be better.

Ebersole said the bill is too vague to know that would be the result. Then he got to the real issue.
County treasurers get $1 for every doe license sold. They typically split $750,000 a year.
Treasurers want that money.

The average county grosses $11,000 in doe license revenues, according to Game Commission executive director Matt Hough, the third presenter. Rep. Gerald Mullery, sponsor of the bill, said treasurers don't net that much and aren't using that to make budgets anyway. Many, seeking votes, use it to hire “political appointees,” he said.

Ebersole denied that, and Rep. Mike Peifer really took exception. Refusing to reference Mullery by name, he said he'd never heard of anything like that.

Mullery countered by saying three lawmakers already told him they won't support the bill because they're getting pushback from treasurers in their districts worried about losing that money. Rep. Dan Moul said he expects county commissioners to raise the same objection.

The bill would not create an all-or-nothing scenario. Hough said treasurers still could make money by selling licenses just like any other vendor.

But some already have said they will quit selling licenses altogether if they lose the exclusive right to sell doe tags, Ebersole said.

And so, a change that seems so obvious faces obstacles.
Only in Pennsylvania.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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