State Rep. David Smith‘s effort to increase penalties for bear poaching in Florida continued its swift movement and is headed to the House of Representatives floor after his bill sailed through the House State Affairs Committee Thursday morning.
House Bill 327 would increase the severity of crime associated with bear poaching to a level 3, meaning anyone caught killing or possessing Florida black bears outside of a bear hunting season would face a minimum fine of $750, plus a three-year suspension of a hunting license. Florida has not had a bear hunt season since 2015.
“We’re talking about poaching. The bill seeks to create a movement from a level 2 violation which it currently is, to a level 3 violation. Bottom line: House Bill 327 puts bears on an equal level now with deer and turkey. It’s hard to believe, but today, when you can’t hunt bears at all in the state of Florida, it’s less of a criminal penalty to kill a bear than to take a turkey one day out of season,” Smith, a Winter Springs Republican, said. “This bill just puts them on an equal level with deer and turkey.”
HB 327 has now cleared all three of its committee stops in swift order, having received approvals last week by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and in November by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.
The matter of bear hunting has become more pronounced because the Florida black bear population has grown significantly in the past decade. Also, there is an international black market, particularly in some Asian countries such as China, for bear bile, which is viewed as a folk medicine. Smith said in an interview earlier this month that there are reports of organized crime efforts to kill bears in Florida to obtain the bile, which can sell for thousands of dollars overseas.
Smith’s bill, and the Senate counterpart, state Sen. Tom Wright‘s Senate Bill 688, don’t address that directly. Poaching cases that are suspected of being part of bear bile rings are turned over to federal authorities, who pursue federal racketeering charges.
“It’s a good bill. People like it,” Smith said. “It’s moving obviously in the House, and it’s moving in the Senate. … It’s well received over there.”