116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Gov. Terry Branstad closed a whirlwind week for hunting enthusiasts Thursday by signing into law a bill authorizing an open season to hunt mourning doves by September – an outcome critics say was the product of a sabotaged legislative process.
In a private ceremony, Branstad signed Senate File 464, allowing the state Natural Resources Commission to add mourning doves to the list of game birds that can be hunted legally in Iowa.
“I'm pleased to be able to sign it,” said Branstad, who noted he was a member of a House committee that moved the measure out of committee in 1973 when he was a freshman representative but the bill stalled due to “so much flack” from the public.
“Every state surrounding Iowa has a dove-hunting season and now we'll have the opportunity here. I think it will be good for the Iowa economy. It's certainly something that hunters have waited for a long time,” he said. “Because of the decline in the pheasant population, we've seen the number of hunting licenses go down in recent years. This should help.”
Opponents were as upset with the process as they were with the outcome, given the controversial bill cleared both the Senate and House without giving the public so much as a peep in either chamber before the measure sped through the Senate on Tuesday and the House on Wednesday before landing on the governor's desk for his promised signature.
“Every time we take away people's right to say something, I think you've sabotaged the process,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, who called the unusual House action to take a Senate bill dealing with raccoon hunting, change it to instead only deal with the dove-hunting issue, substitute that retooled bill for S.F. 464 and send it to the governor was “an embarrassment.”
“I think it's a cynical move to allow something like this to happen because I think it does shut down public debate and I think it is a disservice to the voters of Iowa. They deserve the opportunity to weigh in. When you sabotage or subvert that process, it really does shut down the public's ability to weigh in and I value that. I think that's important,” added Mascher, who voted against the dove-hunting bill Wednesday. “If you open that door, then it can be done for anything and if that happens I think we have lost a little bit of the dignity and the respect that people hold for us in an open public setting.”
House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, defended the process, noting it was not the first time an amendment had been offered on the House floor that hadn't been through a subcommittee.
“You're acting like there's something unique,” he told reporters who questioned the process by which the dove-hunting bill made it to the governor's desk without going through the traditional subcommittee vetting. At the same time, he said he did not recall a previous time when the House substituted a Senate file for a Senate file in the course of a debate as part of the legislative gymnastics to get to a final vote on passage.
“Have I ever seen it? No. At least if I did, I don't recall it. But we substitute bills on a regular basis,” Paulsen said.
“I got lots of comments from the public on this issue,” via email and community forums, the House speaker said. “The body clearly supported the bill, that was unquestioned, and the body made a decision to move quickly. It's been something that's been done in the past and it's something that will probably be done in the future. The body wanted to do it quickly because we've got dramatically more important things to do.”
The bill first surfaced in the Senate Natural Resources Committee, where bill sponsor, Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, serves as chairman. The bill was not on the agenda last month on the final day before the first funnel deadline when Dearden called up the measure, asked the committee to meet as a subcommittee of the whole to consider it and then voted it to the Senate debate calendar.
Dearden said Thursday marked the culmination of 14 years of work trying to make Iowa the 40th state to legalize dove hunting.
“It's been a long time coming. Some of these folks go back 30 years,” Dearden said. “I think five or six years from now, it'll be some common that there won't be any hard feelings. People will accept it and know that it's just another part of hunting. We'll all get together again. But right now there's a lot of emotion and hurt feeling.”
Carol Griglione, Iowa state director for The Humane Society of the United States, expressed disappointment the Legislature voted “to allow the target shooting of mourning doves for the first time since 1918.”
“This bill repeals nearly a century of dove protection policy in our state, yet lawmakers rushed it through the process without hardly a word of debate or a serious vetting of the issues,” she said. “Doves are not overpopulated, there is very little meat on their bodies, and there is no management rationale for a new hunting season – they will simply be shot for target practice.”
Marcus Branstad, the governor's youngest son, was on hand to witness the bill signing and said he looked forward to a chance to go dove hunting with his dad later this fall.
“I grew up hunting all over Iowa and I like to participate in just about every season that the DNR allows. It's something that can generate revenue for the state of Iowa and it's good for the sportsmen,” he said. “We've been waiting for this for a long time.”
Branstad said his hunting days with Marcus date back to the yearly governor's pheasant hunt, noting “he's a better shot than I am.” The governor said he was not certain he would be able to hit a dove on the fly given that the birds are small and fly in erratic patterns.