I generally sympathize with the pro-hunting folks, but the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance is engaging in either deliberate lies or abject incompetence these days.
The alliance's Web site (http://www.ussportsmen.org) has a section that tracks legislation of interest to hunters and anglers. The description of three Illinois bills on the Web site recently attracted the attention of Tennessee-based syndicated newspaper columnist Bob Hodge, who called the bills "nuts."
One Illinois bill tracked on the Alliance's Web site is described thusly: "No one may engage in, anyway [sic] the killing or wounding of an animal for sport, attainment, trophy, or amusement."
Another bill "prohibits the taking of all-white white-tailed deer."
Let's take a look at the bills in that order.
The alliance left off the second, and crucial, half of a sentence in the official Legislative Information System's explanation of Senate Bill 71, sponsored by Senator John Cullerton (D-Chicago).
Yes, the bill does say that "no person may knowingly engage in, sponsor, instigate, assist, or profit from the killing or wounding of an animal for the purpose of sport, amusement, attainment, or production of a trophy, or collection of a prize ... "
But here's the all-important second half of that sentence: " ... if the animal is confined in a man-made enclosure or otherwise restrained from engaging in normal movement." An amendment completely exempts animals "that are not exotic mammals," meaning any animal you could normally hunt in the state. The original bill exempted deer.
In other words, Senator Cullerton's bill, as currently amended, would forbid people from tying a tiger to tree and then shooting it. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Believe it or not, some people pay big bucks to do that sort of thing. Whatever the case, the bill isn't quite as onerous as the alliance's description sounded, is it? It couldn't have been too radical because the measure cleared the highly conservative Senate Agriculture Committee 6-1.
The alliance also claims that House Bill 652 and Senate Bill 260 would bar the taking of all-white whitetailed deer. Wrong again.
The truth is that Illinois already bars the killing of the rare all-white deer. The bills referenced by the alliance, HB652 and SB260, are what are known as "vehicle bills."
Vehicle bills, also known as "shell bills," are essentially empty pieces of legislation that exist solely to be amended with real legislative changes. Hundreds of vehicle bills are introduced every year by the leaders of both chambers in case an issue comes up late in the session on that particular topic and a bill is needed to move it through the process (hence, the term "vehicle"). Vehicles are introduced covering topics ranging from the pension code to the election code to the insurance code to the community-college statutes.
The bills usually contain only one very minor change that doesn't really alter the meaning of the underlying law. Some bills simply change the word "the" to "a."
In this case, the two bills, sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones, merely added the title "deer" to the existing section of the state hunting statute. The paragraph on banning the hunting of all-white white-tailed deer was already in state law and was included for reference purposes only.
Oops. This is a common error made by people who don't know how to read legislation. (The Tennessee columnist erroneously claimed the bill would bar hunting of any white-tailed deer, which is a misreading of the misreading.) When you read legislation, you look for underlined words and sentences, which is the proposed new language. Everything else is existing state law.
In this case, the word "deer" in the title position was the only underlined text in the one-paragraph legislation, which means it was the only proposed change to existing law.
A legislative tracking service is a good idea for any grassroots organization. But firing up your members with obvious falsehoods can backfire in a big way. And making a nationally syndicated columnist look like a moron can never be a good thing.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at (http://www.capitolfax.com).