State Representative Bill Hixon (R-North Augusta) had it easy on his first piece of legislation.
The freshman lawmaker and avid hunter first arrived at the Statehouse in January after his election last year. He immediately worked to shepherd a little-noticed bill through the legislature that has major implications for hunters in South Carolina.
The quiet Aiken County legislator will get a moment in the spotlight Tuesday as Governor Nikki Haley plans to hold a ceremonial signing of the law in his hometown of North Augusta. The new law lets South Carolina join the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact— a hunting agreement between 44 states. While it may not sound like much, it actually fixes what Hixon and wildlife management officials say was a major hole in state game laws.
Right now, if a person from outside South Carolina commits a hunting or fishing violation in the state, the game warden is required to collect a fine on the spot, and take the hunter to prison if they are unable to pay it. Likewise for South Carolinians in many other states. Without being in the compact, a South Carolina hunting license is no good across state lines, and is akin to hunting or fishing with no license at all.
Hixon said most wardens believed the law was an unnecessary burden, and would instead take out-of-state violators to ATMs or escort them home so they could get money to pay the fines. He said he was afraid some hunters who could not pay were going to jail unnecessarily, “I think it would be a shame to see somebody’s (mug shot) that caught too many fish or did not have enough life jackets, or something like that,” Hixon said, “Jail needs to be a place for hardened criminals.”
He said he was surprised when he arrived in Columbia and no one could tell him why South Carolina was not participating in the compact. “I would try to tell these House members and senators about this,” Hixon said, “Every one of them would look at me and say, ‘Why haven’t we done this before?’ And I would say, ‘I don’t know… I just got here. I was just elected.”
The new law, originally passed by the legislature and signed by the governor in April, would address that problem by enrolling South Carolina in the compact. Under the agreement, a South Carolina hunting license would be recognized as valid in other states, much like a driver’s license.
South Carolina would also have access to a national database that allows Department of Natural Resources officials to do background checks on new hunters to see if their license was suspended in another state. Right now, officials have no way to get to that database.
It’s unusual for a freshman legislator to get a law changed in his first year, especially one that passes overwhelmingly, as Hixon’s bill did. “It was a dream come true for a first piece of legislation as a freshman,” Hixon said. “I was proud to do it.”
The law will go into effect within the next six months, as DNR begins the process of implementing the changes.