Captive deer concerns sink bill designed to boost farmers

Michaela Marshall Dungey/Missouri Business Alert
With Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of Senate Bill 506 standing, operators of captive deer farms didn’t get the change in regulatory control they sought. | Michaela Marshall Dungey/Missouri Business Alert

When Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Jefferson County, changed his vote on Senate Bill 506 from Yea to Nay during Wednesday’s veto session, it killed legislation that would have reclassified captive deer as livestock and would’ve transferred regulation of the captive deer industry to the Missouri Department of Agriculture from the Department of Conservation.

Roorda’s shift left backers of SB 506 one vote shy of the 109 they needed to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the bill.

The initial bill in May passed unanimously in the Senate and 101-38 in the House. The provision regarding regulation of the deer industry was tacked onto a popular agricultural bill that would have helped Missouri’s struggling dairy industry.

Debate over the bill during the veto session dragged on for about an hour and a half — nearly as long as the contentious debate over a bill extending the state waiting period for abortions to 72 hours. Several lawmakers, including Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said they wanted to support SB 506, but the captive deer clause scared them away.

“These are mutant deer,” Kelly said. “It’s not hunting!”

The Department of Conservation wants to more heavily regulate the deer industry and is concerned about the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, a neurological disease that affects deer. The MDC says that the first cases of the disease, which has been found in 21 other states and Canada, were seen on captive deer farms.

When he vetoed the bill in July, Nixon said that the Department of Conservation should not be stripped of its privilege to protect Missouri’s lucrative free-range deer industry.

“White-tailed deer are wildlife, and they are also a game animal,” Nixon said in his veto statement.

The governor added that “the Department of Conservation should be commended” for handling the state’s deer population, “not stripped of its authority to do so in order to protect narrow interests.”

According to the MDC, there are 513,000 licensed, free-range deer hunters in Missouri. The free-range deer hunting industry generates $600 million and employs 12,000 people throughout the state.

Of the 39 captive deer ranges in Missouri, only 10 sell more than 30 hunting permits per year, according to the MDC. The department estimates that those 39 ranges contain about 9,000 captive deer to hunt and less than 2,150 hunters.

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