SALT LAKE CITY -- After failing the first time around, a Top of Utah lawmaker's bill to strengthen poaching laws passed a House committee on Monday and heads to the floor for a debate and a possible vote.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, would make repeat violations of some poaching laws a felony instead of a misdemeanor. A felony is a much more serious legal charge.
"There is no other way to go after some of these guys," said Oda at the hearing.
The committee had heard examples of hunters who took excessive big game, or as the bill describes it, practiced "wanton destruction of protected wildlife."
After two violations, the third would become a third-degree felony.
But Oda's legislation rankled some members of the committee and split parts of the Top of Utah delegation, which is heavily represented on the committee.
Rep. Mel Brown, R-Coalville, tried to amend the bill and take it back to a misdemeanor but lost on a 7-6 vote.
Among the concerns was the thought that a felony conviction would give federal game officers more power to interdict in state poaching cases. Others thought the change was too harsh on hunters.
"The problems are more far- reaching," said Rep. Michael Noel, R-Kanab.
Yet Oda's proposal picked up enough support when he agreed to amend the bill to force all three violations to occur within seven years for the crime to be a felony.
The bill also has the support of the Utah Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife organization.