By Juliet Williams / MercuryNews.com / May 29, 2012
SACRAMENTO, Calif.—The state Assembly approved new restrictions governing who can be appointed to the California Fish and Game Commission on Tuesday as part of the ongoing fallout over the former president’s killing of a mountain lion in Idaho.
Lawmakers approved AB2609 by Assemblyman Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, on a 55-22 vote, sending it to the Senate.
The bill requires the governor and the Senate Rules Committee to consider an appointee’s background in natural resource management, public policy and a scientific discipline and whether the commission is diverse enough before making appointments. It also would require commissioners to comply with the Political Reform Act governing conflicts of interest and change the procedure for commission members to elect their president.
Republicans called it retaliation against former president Dan Richards, who faced heavy criticism after posing for photos with a man-sized mountain lion he killed during a legal hunt in Idaho. It is illegal to kill them in California.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, called the bill “thinly disguised retaliation.”
“It is a misuse of state resources to be going after him,” Donnelly said, adding that debate is a hallmark of our democracy. “It would be nice if somebody with some sort of an opposing viewpoint were allowed to keep their position even if others vehemently disagree with him.”
Hueso said the bill was not intended to target Richards, but the incident involving the mountain lion led to broader questions about a commission that was formed in 1870 but “has not kept pace with modern times.”
The lawmaker said most of the allegations leveled by opponents were not true. Hueso previously sought to remove Richards from the commission, but he dropped that effort in favor of adopting stronger conflict-of-interest legislation.
California’s ethics agency, the Fair Political Practices Commission, determined that Richards broke the law by accepting the $6,800 January trip as a gift, but it opted against issuing a fine.
The FPPC said Richards, a Republican commercial real estate developer from San Bernardino County, violated the state’s $420 gift limit when he accepted the hunting trip from Flying B Ranch in Idaho.
Richards repaid the ranch, but he did so after the required 30-day window for repayment. He could have faced a $5,000 fine.
Richards has called his critics “enviro-terrorists,” noting that mountain lion shooting is legal in Idaho, and he ate what he shot, as good hunters do.