Sen. Tom Wright and Rep. David Smith‘s legislation cracking down on bear poaching cleared the Legislature Thursday.
It’s now ready for Gov. Ron DeSantis after a unanimous vote and the House’s approval to a Senate tweak.
The legislation (HB 327) would increase the severity of criminal charges associated with bear poaching to a first-degree misdemeanor.
The minimum fine would increase from $500 to $750 and increase hunting license suspensions for violators from one year to three years. That suspension would extend to 47 other states.
The law “will put bears on an equal footing, equal hoof,” Wright previously said of the bill, noting that other poaching laws have been more stringent than bear poaching.
Florida has not had a bear hunt season since 2015.
The Humane Society of the United States and the Florida Conservation Voters signaled their support for the measure.
Preventing illegal bear hunting has been a rising concern for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in recent years with Florida’s black bear population growing significantly in the past decade.
In the second half of the decade, the Commission criminally charged 22 people with bear poaching and issued warnings to five others.
The Senate amendment clarified that the poaching ban does not apply to Fish and Wildlife personnel.
There is an international black market, particularly in some Asian countries such as China, for bear bile, which is viewed as traditional medicine.
Smith told Florida Politics in January that there are reports of organized crime efforts to kill bears in Florida to obtain the bear bile, which can sell for thousands of dollars overseas.
Legislation doesn’t directly address the organized crime reports because federal authorities investigate poaching cases that are considered part of bear bile rings. Law enforcement can charge suspects in those cases with federal racketeering charges.
Last month, House members offered no debate before passing Smith’s bill 116-0.
Florida Politics reporter Scott Powers contributed to this report.