JEFFERSON CITY — Sen. Brian Munzlinger didn’t expect the vote to be so close on his bill.
The Senate Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee voted 4-3 Wednesday to pass the bill, which would make the Missouri Department of Conservation pay for damage caused by elk. While the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety committee voted 13-1 to pass a nearly identical bill in late February, Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, faced a much closer decision.
The Missouri Department of Conservation is down to 34 elk in its holding pens in southeast Kentucky. That number is down from the 49 it began with at the start of the 90-day waiting period to test for diseases in late January.
According to a news release from the department, pneumonia, injury and stress are the main causes for the elk casualties. The release said that the losses were expected and could not be prevented. The department will bring the elk to Peck Conservation Ranch in southeast Missouri the last week of April.
He said it was the opposition from Sen. Chuck Purgason, R-West Plains, that surprised him most. Purgason represents Shannon County, which is part of the three-county elk restoration zone in southeast Missouri.
“I hadn’t really asked him,” Munzlinger said about Purgason’s vote on the bill. Munzlinger supposed that cattle producers in Purgason's area would be concerned about damage caused to fences and pastures.
Munzlinger’s bill is similar to the House bill sponsored by Rep. Rodney Schad, R-Versailles, but it doesn’t force the Missouri Department of Conservation to take ownership of the elk. The bill still would make the department pay for vehicle collisions, injuries, deaths and damage that elk cause to crops or land.
Purgason said he expected the bill to pass through the committee. He said that he had received a lot of calls and letters and that most people supported the restoration, arguing the elk would draw tourists.
“The majority of the people (in the committee) don’t represent the area,” Purgason said. “The sponsor of the bill is from north Missouri, so I was just trying to do my best to represent what I thought was the majority of the community involved.”
Now it's up to Senate President Pro Tem Rob Mayer, R-Cape Girardeau, to bring the bill to the floor. Munzlinger said he, the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Missouri Cattlemen's Association will lobby for the bill, but he doesn’t expect it to get on the floor until mid- to late-April at the earliest.
The House bill also isn't expected to be heard until late April. House Rules Committee Chairman John Diehl, R-Town and Country, said there are more than 50 bills ahead of it, and he wouldn’t comment on a time line for the bill.