TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The next time a bear hunt is conducted in Florida, the hunters could get some additional camouflage.
The Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee on Tuesday backed a measure (SB 1364) that would create a public-records exemption to shield personal information --- such as names, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and telephone numbers --- of people getting hunting, fishing and boating licenses and certificates from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Sen. Alan Hays, a Umatilla Republican who sponsored the proposal, said the intent of the proposed exemption is to protect gun owners.
"It's a good gun-control measure, to tell you the truth, without interfering with Second Amendment rights," Hays said.
"The current situation is that if any person who wants to know where weapons are located, all they'd have to do is do a public-records request to the Fish and Game Commission to send a list of everybody who has a hunting license," Hays continued. "And you know good and well most of those homes, where the owner or the occupant has a hunting license, are going to have a weapon."
When asked about how components of the bill, such as fishing licenses, fit within protecting gun ownership, Hays said such parts can be removed when the bill goes before another committee.
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, questioned Hays' stance in an email Tuesday.
"Have there been any reported incidents of people using hunting licenses to track down hunters to steal their guns? Isn't that the definition of stupid criminal? And why include fishing licenses? Boating safety records? He's blowing smoke," Petersen said in the email. "This is clearly a reaction to the bear hunting license snafu and the fact that a reporter from the Orlando Sentinel got (rock star) Ted Nugent's telephone number and called him up."
(Disclosure: The News Service of Florida is a member of the First Amendment Foundation.)
Hays said after the meeting that the controversial bear hunt didn't factor into his decision to file the bill, which, if approved, would become law July 1.
The commission held a bear hunt in October, the first in the state in more than two decades. The state sold 3,778 permits for the hunt, and among the people buying permits were Nugent, House members Frank Artiles of Miami, Jay Trumbull of Panama City and Tom Goodson of Titusville, and Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Aliese Priddy.
The commission halted the potential seven-day hunt after two days, as the number of bears killed quickly approached the quota of 320. Commission officials acknowledged they "underestimated the hunter success for the first day."
The commission has not decided if a bear hunt will be conducted this year. Spokeswoman Susan Smith said the agency is "still reviewing information from the 2015 hunt."
The Senate bill must get approved by the Rules Committee before it could go to the full Senate.
A similar House bill (HB 1153) was unanimously supported by the Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee last month and must clear the State Affairs Committee before it could go to the House floor.