Miller Seeks License Equality for D.C.’s Hunters

Posted July 30, 2007 at 5:54pm

Residents of Washington, D.C., frequently cite an array of rights they lack because they do not live in one of the 50 states.

D.C.’s quest for full representation in Congress is perhaps the most famous, although there’s legislation lingering in the Senate that attempts to address that issue, at least for the House. Then there’s the fact that Congress has power over the city’s budget and legislation; D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) introduced two bills earlier this year to ease those restrictions.

Now comes the Equitable Access for DC Hunters Act, which would allow residents to pay in-state rates for hunting licenses they obtain in Maryland or Virginia.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) introduced the measure on Friday. As of Monday afternoon, it had attracted a bipartisan group of 23 co-sponsors.

“It’s a small inequity that probably only affects a small number of people,” Miller said of D.C.’s sportsmen. “However, they should be given the same opportunity to buy hunting licenses.”

Miller — himself a longtime sportsman who regularly hunts in his home state of Florida and nearby Alabama and Texas — recalled how there once was a time when residents could easily hunt in the District.

With the spur of development throughout the District, that is no longer an option, and D.C.’s avid sportsmen now must venture to nearby Virginia or Maryland instead, he said.

But doing so can be expensive, putting District hunters at an unfair disadvantage compared to their fellow sportsmen, Miller noted.

According to the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, a license to hunt statewide costs $18 for residents and $86 for nonresidents. In the Old Line State, a regular hunting license costs $24.50 for residents and $130 for nonresidents, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

“There [could] be people who would not buy a license because of the cost difference,” Miller said.

Under Miller’s measure, Maryland and Virginia would treat D.C. residents as in-state for the purposes of acquiring the license, including the license’s length, activities allowed and fees. D.C. residents would be required to show official identification before obtaining the license, and state officials could deny issuing a license to anyone who does not meet the necessary requirements.

The D.C. government would reimburse Maryland and Virginia for “any revenues foregone … as a result of participating in the agreement.” Congress would then appropriate money to reimburse the District.

The measure was referred to both the Natural Resources and the Oversight and Government Reform committees.

For his part, Miller is optimistic about the bill’s chances this session.

“I would suspect that given an opportunity to education the Democratic leadership, this is a bill that should pass the House,” Miller said.

D.C.’s representative might not be so sure. In a statement issued to Roll Call, Norton’s office appeared skeptical about the bill.

“The District of Columbia has never objected to or barred its residents from hunting and some may already have licenses,” the statement reads. “One wonders if this is a gratuitous act, and above all, whether Mr. Miller has consulted Maryland and Virginia which could suffer revenue loss as a result of his bill.”

Miller argued that, in addition to the federal government supplying the difference in fees, Maryland and Virginia actually could gain revenue because of the measure. Sportsmen spend “a tremendous amount of money” in the local economy, buying supplies, visiting nearby restaurants and sometimes staying overnight, he noted.

And lowering the licensing fees could encourage D.C. sportsmen to venture out into the bush more often, Miller said, thus further increasing local revenues.

Working to equalize financial matters for D.C. residents is not an entirely new idea, Miller noted. In 2000, Congress authorized the District of Columbia College Access Program, which gives D.C. high school graduates up to $10,000 to reimburse the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates at public colleges and universities.

While far fewer people would take part in the hunting license program (and the cost would be much lower), the framework is similar, Miller said.

One issue that could potentially be brought up in regard to the bill is the District’s ongoing legal battle over its 30-year ban on handguns.

In March, a federal appeals court overturned the ban, rejecting arguments from city officials that the Second Amendment only applied to state militias. D.C. officials have promised to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.

But Miller argued that the battle over the handgun ban and his hunting license bill actually have very little in common.

“It has absolutely no connection between the two,” Miller said. “Very few people hunt wildlife with handguns. This has nothing to do with the weapon; it’s just the license to hunt within the two states.”