For decades, there have been no changes made to the cost of fishing and hunting licenses issued to residents in Arkansas. That could change in the near future.
In a narrow 5-3 vote, the state Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee passed SB 670 and it now heads to the full Senate. The bill would incrementally increase fees charged for these licenses.
Arkansas Game and Fish Commission Director Pat Fitts told committee members the fee increases were necessary to keep pace with infrastructure improvements that will be needed in the coming decades.
Several legislators grilled Fitts, and bill sponsor Sen. Ron Caldwell, R-Wynne, over the timing of the bill and its confusing language. If passed, the bill would increase the licensing fees by 65% of the consumer price index through July of 2026, and then it will increase by another 25% through 2031.
A fishing license currently costs $10 and would go up to about $17 by 2026. It would increase to around $26 by 2031. Fitts noted that resident fishing licenses have been $10 since 1984, and hunting licenses have been $25 since 1990. Out-of-state licenses have been increased five separate times during this time frame, he added.
Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs, asked Caldwell and Fitts why the agency waited until now to ask for license hikes. Fitts said he wasn’t sure why his predecessors didn’t ask, but he thinks it’s because AGFC officials are hesitant to raise fees in general.
Fitts noted that his agency runs 61 wildlife areas in the state that cover more than 380,000 acres. That includes 48 dams, hundreds of miles of levees, five hatcheries that produce 10 million fish per year, and facilities. Rapidly changing weather patterns in the state, which includes more precipitation, have put some wildlife areas at risk and steps have to be taken to protect these areas, he added.
In other business, the committee passed SB 659, which would place the Northeast Arkansas Economic Development District under the supervision of the Delta Center for Economic Development at Arkansas State University.
Caldwell, who sponsored this bill too, said there have been several complaints that projects tied to the Development District have lagged in completion and he thinks the organization needed another layer of oversight. The bill doesn’t take control away from the organization’s board and it doesn’t change the number of employees.
“There will be no loss of authority. The board will retain 100% control,” Caldwell said.
Greene County Judge Rusty McMillon, a board member for the economic development organization, spoke against the bill noting there were no allegations of misspent money or other irregularities.
The district spans nearly every county in Northeast Arkansas. McMillon said local county judges and mayors throughout the region are fearful they will lose local control if the bill was passed. Committee members sided with Caldwell and the bill now heads to the full Senate.