Out of 15,000 state legislators in the entire country, Tennessee Senator Mike Bell (R, Dist. 9 – Bradley, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe and Polk counties) has been chosen as the 2017 State Legislator of the Year by Safari Club International, a national conservation and hunter advocacy organization.
“I’m still in a little bit of shock,” said Sen. Bell. “I didn’t realize the magnitude of it until I went online and looked at some of the past winners.”
Sen. Bell was nominated by Tennessee Wildlife Commissioner Bill Swan who is extremely active in SCI locally and national. Swan’s grandson, Parker, was recently named as SCI’s “Young Hunter of the Year.”
Swan was clearly excited about Bell’s selection.
“There were eleven finalists that went before the SCI selection committee,” said Swan. “I’m very proud they saw how dedicated Senator Bell is to the outdoors, hunters and fishermen.”
Sen. Bell is a small business owner and farmer living in Riceville, Tenn. (McMinn County). He was elected to the Tennessee House in 2007 and then elected to the Senate in 2010.
He has passed or introduced a laundry list of bills to benefit the environment, hunters, fishermen and 2nd Amendment supporters.
“I’m a big believer in the 2nd Amendment,” said Sen. Bell. “When most people think about the 2nd Amendment they think about guns, not knives. But while I was researching my knife bill I learned that there was an important ruling to come out of the Washington State Supreme Court ruling that knives were intended to be included in the 2nd Amendment.”
Sen. Bell passed Senate Bill 1771 in 2014 which makes it legal to own, possess and sell knives with a blade length in excess of four inches; and also increased the fine for “possessing a switchblade knife with the intent to employ it during commission of a dangerous felony from $3,000 to $6,000.”
In 2013, he sponsored Senate Bill 1015 that says “it is the intent of the general assembly that the law regarding weapons is preemptive with respect to the transfer, ownership, possession or transportation of knives and that no city, county, or metropolitan government may occupy any part of the field of regulation of the transfer, ownership, possession or transportation of knives.”
He said, however, the most memorable legislation was the first bill he ever passed.
“Raccoon and bear hunters brought it to me,” he said. “They had been having problems with anti-hunters removing tracking devices off their dogs.”
The law passed “prohibits any person from removing an electronic or radio transmitting collar from a dog without the dog owner’s permission and with the intent to prevent or hinder the owner from locating the dog.” A violation is Class B misdemeanor unless the dog is lost or killed as a result of the removal, in which case it becomes Class A misdemeanor.
“The same thing applies with microchips used in family pets,” said Sen. Bell. “We have heard of cases where expensive pets were stolen and the microchips removed so that the theft couldn’t be tracked.”
This year Sen. Bell has introduced several bills, including one which would move the regulation of Tennessee trapping laws from legislative code to the control of the Tennessee Fish & Wildlife Commission (SB 906).
“The wildlife commission governs all other hunting & fishing regulations,” said Sen. Bell. “It only makes sense that they handle trapping regulations as well.”
He is also pushing legislation that would provide TWRA more funding by diverting a larger portion of marine fuel taxes to the Agency (SB 914).
“When you buy gas on the water you’re paying road taxes,” said Sen. Bell. “Why should you have to do that? TWRA gets a small percentage for boat access ramps, about $500,000 every year. But about $5 million is generated each year in state tax. My bill would provide all of that money for use on better water access.”
Sen. Bell admits, however, that since that proposal would take money from the General Fund, odds of passage are slim.
He has also proposed a law which says, “going forward, if the Legislature passes new discounted hunt/fish licenses, they must make up funding difference to TWRA out of the General Fund.” (SB 454).
“These discounts continue to chip away at TWRA’s budget,” he said.
Obviously Sen. Bell is considered a “go to” Legislator whenever the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency needs help on Capitol Hill.
“I don’t agree with TWRA on everything,” he said, “but I try to help them when I can.”
Sen. Bell is an avid outdoorsman enjoying all types of hunting and fishing, including deer, bear, turkey, squirrel, rabbit and upland birds. He likes to trout fish in the streams and rivers of Southeast Tennessee and has even been known to go catfish noodling.
He is scheduled to receive his SCI award at a ceremony in Washington, DC on May 10. He is concerned, however, that he won’t be able to go if the Tennessee Legislative session is still going on.
“I’m talking to the legislative leadership about the schedule because I really would like to attend the event in DC,” he said. “But if we’re still in session, I’ll have to be here.”