Tester’s sportsmen bill advances

Great Falls Tribune

by Malia Rulon Herman

Passage could be as early as Thursday

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to advance Sen. Jon Tester’s bill to benefit outdoor sportsmen, making good on a promise made before the election that lawmakers would consider the measure when they returned.

The 92-5 vote cleared the bill for consideration. A vote on final passage could come as early as Thursday.

“This is a widely supported bill,” Tester told fellow lawmakers moments before the vote. “It takes into consideration the needs of the entire sportsmen community.”

The bill includes some 20 hunting, fishing and conservation measures that would, among other things, increase access for hunters on public lands, create and maintain shooting ranges, allow for the importation of legally killed polar bears from Canada and permit bows to be transported across national park lands. It also would establish a National Fish Habitat Board and extend the sale of duck stamps, the proceeds of which go to conservation funds.

Tuesday’s vote was the first action by the Senate following last week’s election. It came after Tester’s bill held up the Senate for two days in late September as lawmakers were eager to adjourn and hit the campaign trail.

Amid partisan bickering, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada had demanded a vote on the bill. Republicans complained the vote was a political move because a victory on the sportsman’s bill would boost Tester’s standing with gun owners in his tight re-election race against GOP Rep. Denny Rehberg.

Tester won re-election last week with 48 percent of the vote to Rehberg’s 45 percent. After Tuesday’s vote to advance the bill, Reid lambasted lawmakers for again attempting to delay it, vowing to block amendments to the bill and saying it would be voted on by next week.

“We aren’t going to have any amendments. This is a bipartisan bill,” Reid said. “If we have to stay here until the day before Thanksgiving, we’re going to do it.” Tester said outdoor recreation “drives and sustains jobs” and accounts for $646 billion in direct spending each year.

He said 90 million sportswomen and sportsmen would benefit from his bill.

“Now it’s time to get this bill across the finish line,” he said.

The Obama administration said Tuesday it supports the bill.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., is among 14 co-sponsors.