Topeka Kansas Secretary of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism Robin Jennison is trying to find the right bait to get the Legislature to bite on a proposal to charge senior citizens for fishing and hunting permits.
Kansans who are 65 and older are currently exempt from paying for hunting and fishing fees. The annual permits cost $20.50 each.
At the start of the legislative session, Jennison, who is facing a funding crisis in maintaining state parks, initially proposed removing the fee exemptions for people 65 or older. That caused a public outcry.
On Thursday, Jennison tried to soften the blow. He said the agency was now considering a proposal that would give seniors the option of paying for an annual half-price license or purchasing a senior pass, which could cost $50, and be good for the lifetime of the holder.
“We are trying to be fair,” Jennison told the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
Committee members voiced support for Jennison in trying to reach a compromise, but also noted the idea of charging seniors was politically difficult.
“This bill has an uphill battle,” said Sen. Mark Taddiken, R-Clifton.
Committee Chairman Ralph Ostmeyer, R-Grinnell, said when he explains to constituents, who are angry about the proposal, that it is needed to maintain parks facilities, “I think it mellows them down. It doesn’t put the fire out.”
Jennison said he doesn’t think it’s unfair to charge seniors. He noted that probably 90 percent of the people who fish at Lake Perry are seniors.
Jennison said the agency is in a difficult position because it doesn’t get state tax dollars and is in need of funds for major repairs and maintenance at several parks. When he tells people who call him about this issue, they understand, he said.
“Anybody that loves the outdoors, when they understand the issue, they do not have a problem with this at all,” he said.
The Kansas State Rifle Association, Silverhaired Legislature and the Kansas Areas on Aging Association oppose repealing the exemption for seniors regarding the payment of license fees for hunting and fishing.
But Spencer Tomb, a retiree from Manhattan, spoke in favor of charging seniors. He said the license fees are only small parts of the overall costs of hunting and fishing. And, he said, with people living longer, and being more active in retirement, the exemptions for seniors were costing the state a lot of money.