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OWAA opposes measures in Sportsmen bill

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BY MARK FREEMAN 
When I pay my $150 active dues annually to the Outdoor Writers Association of America, I know I always get my money’s worth. It nets me connections with my only true professional peers — outdoor newspaper writers. It also garners me the chance to pick the brains and befriend the top outdoor communicators in North America. I am also working hard to ensure your membership saves you money when you film or report on America’s public lands.
As of writing this in April, OWAA is in the midst of commenting against a piece of the so-called Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, which features several measures that appear to benefit hunters and anglers, but also violates First Amendment protections afforded to many of our members as working journalists.
The bill creates a $200 annual fee for commercially filming on federal public lands in groups of five or fewer. We at OWAA believe this violates First Amendment guarantees against prior restraint.
The Constitution protects much of what we journalists do because we keep the checks and balances on government. We see a $200 fee requirement to film on any federal land as prior restraint on journalists’ legal right to gather news.
We understand and support language to charge commercial movie agencies and commercial advertising agencies for work on public land, but we staunchly believe working journalists should not only be exempt from a fee for working on public land, but that such a fee placed by the government violates our constitutional rights.
We simply aren’t the critters it seems this legislation meant to target and I am here to assure our members that we will do everything we can to ensure we retain our constitutional protections.
The legislation is poorly written, but it is also unintelligently supported.
While supposedly targeting movie or advertising agencies, it includes crime reporters covering federal court cases because federal courts are on federal lands. It may include writers, photographers and film crews simply visiting a Forest Service ranger district office. These are all visits by media members to lands owned by the same agencies managing the federally designated wilderness lands and others targeted by this proposed legislation.
In my three decades of writing about state and federal wildlife and land laws, I know that poorly written legislation that takes into account far more than it claims constitute bad law.
We see this aspect of the Sportsmen’s Act as harming sportsmen and sportswomen communicators and, therefore, the bill needs proper amendments.
We recommended, as we did with a proposed Forest Service rule on filming in wilderness areas earlier this year, the Sportsmen’s Act language specifically exempt journalists conducting their constitutionally protected work on federal lands.
I have forwarded our invited comments on the Forest Service rule to congressional committees.
Not only do I believe our comments are having a positive impact on Forest Service policy, I believe our sharing of these same comments will ensure the Sportsmen’s Act helps outdoorsmen and women without squelching outdoor communicators’ constitutionally protected work.
So, if all goes as expected, your $150 membership dues to OWAA will help save you a $200 check to the feds. ♦
— OWAA President Mark Freeman, mfreeman@mailtribune.com
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