WASHINGTON — The Senate is on track this week to approve legislation by North Carolina’s Kay Hagan that would provide hunters greater access to federal lands and carve out an environmental exemption for their ammunition, a rare bipartisan agreement in a Congress that hasn’t agreed on much of anything this session.
Hagan, a Democrat, is pushing the bill amid a tough re-election race in North Carolina. The sportsmen’s bill would allow states to use a greater percentage of federal funds levied from ammunition taxes, which are earmarked for conservation and public projects, for building and maintaining public target ranges.
In addition, the government would be required to purchase more properties adjacent to federal lands to increase public access. A procedural vote on the bill passed 82-12 late Monday; debate on amendments and final passage might come Wednesday.
A key provision in the bill would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act, preventing the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating ammunition and fishing equipment that may contain lead.
The EPA doesn’t currently regulate ammunition or fishing equipment, but several pro-environmental groups have sued the agency to do so. Pro-sporting groups contend that such rules would cause a jump in prices for ammunition and fishing gear.
Another provision of the bill would allow imports of polar bear parts that were legally collected in Canada before the species was labeled environmentally threatened in 2008.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents the firearms industry, has urged its members to voice support for the bill to Congress, calling it “the most important package of measures for the benefit of sportsmen in a generation.”
Still, Lawrence Keane, a spokesman for the foundation, noted that Hagan’s bill doesn’t focus on Second Amendment rights.
“It’s a sportsman’s bill, not a gun bill,” Keane said.
Hagan has an F rating from the National Rifle Association. The group has endorsed her opponent in November, Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis.
Tillis’ campaign said the candidate supported the sportsmen’s legislation. Tillis’ campaign spokesman, Daniel Keylin, said in a statement: “It’s great that Kay Hagan is finally willing to do something noncontroversial for sportsmen when her political career is on the line.”
John Davis, a North Carolina nonpartisan political consultant, said Hagan’s work on the bill wasn’t surprising but that it would do little to appeal to North Carolina voters, who he said were more concerned with the economy.
“You would expect her to make any and all efforts to reach out to any constituents where she needs supporters,” Davis said, but “the idea that this type of measure that she has supported would have some dramatic impact, I highly doubt it.”
Hagan has attempted to draw appeal from sportsmen’s groups throughout her term in Congress. She serves as a co-chairwoman for the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.
“North Carolinians are passionate about the outdoors,” Hagan said on the Senate floor Monday. “Hunting, hiking and fishing are a way of life, and many of these traditions have been handed down through my family.”
Rep. Bob Latta, an Ohio Republican who’s also a co-chairman of the Sportsmen’s Caucus, introduced legislation similar to Hagan’s in the House of Representatives, where it passed earlier this year with a wide majority.
On Monday, the Senate approved a cloture motion to proceed to debate by a wide margin, voting 82-12. However, Sens. Christopher Murphy and Richard Blumenthal, both Connecticut Democrats, spoke against the bill, saying it didn’t do enough to combat gun violence.
If the bill passes, industry groups expressed optimism that compromise legislation would be brought between the House and Senate versions in the coming months.
The bill includes several other Democratic co-sponsors who are in tight re-election campaigns, including Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and Arkansas Sen. Mark Pryor.