Tennessee House Speaker Kent Williams (R - Dist. 4) says he has no intent of legislating the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) out of business.
Speaker Williams does admit however that he asked Rep. Susan Lynn to take the TWRA Sunset Provision "off notice," a measure that if left unchanged, would lead to the end of TWRA.
Every state government has a Sunset Provision, a date they will automatically cease to exist unless the state legislature extends its sunset date (usually every four years).
Last week TWRA issued a news release notifying the public their Sunset Provision had been stopped from moving forward in the Legislature, which would put the Agency "out of business" effective June 30, 2011.
Although he admits he asked Rep. Lynn to stop the legislation (HB 2460), Speaker Williams said today his intent is not to get rid of TWRA.
"No, that's my intent. Absolutely not," said Speaker Williams. "TWRA is going to exist."
Speaker Williams said a study committee set up by the General Assembly is just finishing up its recommendations.
"We didn't want the (TWRA) Sunset Provision to go through until our recommendations have been heard in the enviromental committee this week," he said. "Communication is the problem. I get more constituent calls about TWRA than anything else other than TennCare."
Mike Butler, Chief Executive Officer for the Tennesse Wildlife Federation (TWF) said, "Saying that communication is the issue and then saying the solution is to take the Sunset Provision off notice is like trying to kill a mouse with an M1 Abrams Tank. If the issue is communication, than lets sit down and communicate."
TWF is a private conservation organization that lobbies on behalf of hunters, fishermen and conservationists.
Speaker Williams says a bill (HB 3936) being pushed by Rep. Joe McCord (R - Dist. 8) would revise the way Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commissioners are appointed.
"Changing the structure of the Commission doesn't get at the (communication) concern," said Butler.
In her position in the House, it is Rep. Lynn's job to push all Sunset Provision through the legislative process. But she says in this case she is "stuck in the middle" of a political dispute.
"I know TWRA's Sunset hearing looked fine," she said. "We certainly need the TWRA. There's no way I want to stand in their way. This bill needs to pass."
Rep. Lynn said she also believed Rep. Chad Faulkner (R - Dist. 36) is upset with TWRA.
Rep. Faulkner represents Union and Campbell counties, which border Norris Lake. TWRA recently passed a new regulation restricting the creel limit on smallmouth bass on Norris Lake. Many fishermen, especially tournament fishermen, are extremely upset over the new regulation. Outdoor Writer Bob Hodge covered the dispute in the Knoxville News Sentinel in February.
While unconfirmed, it seems possible that the dispute over the new Norris fishing regulation might also be at the heart of a move to hold up TWRA's Sunset Provision.
"That has nothing to do with it whatsoever. I know there is some discussion on Norris Lake about the smallmouth... but that has nothing to do with it," said Speaker Williams, insisting the root of the problem lies with communication.
"When I was elected in Carter County one of the primary complaints I heard was that the (wildlife) commissioner in our area wouldn't return calls... so I called our commissioner and I couldn't get a return call," he said.
Neither Rep. Faulkner nor TWRA Executive Director Ed Carter have returned calls seeking additional comment.