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story.lead_photo.caption Black bears are growing in number across the Missouri Ozarks. Photo by Missouri Department of Conservation

For too long, Missouri has been a state where poachers wishing to harvest their trophies have done so without concerns about the repercussions, lawmakers said Tuesday.

The Missouri House of Representatives moved legislation — aimed at penalizing poachers — closer to a finish line that morning, when they passed a bill crafted by both the General Assembly's chambers to impose additional fines on people found guilty of the offense.

Poaching is a Class A misdemeanor in the state, which may include up to $2,000. With the passage of Senate Committee Substitute to House Bill 260, additional restitution to be paid to Missouri may apply.

The bill, which now moves on to the governor's desk, would allow a court to order a "person found guilty of chasing, pursuing, killing, processing or disposing of wild turkey, paddlefish, white-tailed deer, black bear or elk in violation of methods, seasons and limits," per state rules and regulations, to make restitution to Missouri.

The restitution would be used for Missouri schools.

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Additional fines range from $350-$750 for each wild turkey, $500-$1,000 for each paddlefish, $1,000-$2,000 for each white-tailed deer, and $2,500-$5,000 for each black bear or elk.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, is similar to Senate Bill 356, sponsored by state Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City.

Poachers in Missouri don't fear eventually being caught rather than just paying the fees required in the state, Taylor said.

"We've tried to just make them stop and think," Taylor said. "As a state, we've got a pretty low asking tax."

Missourians enjoy their hunting and fishing at a relatively low price compared to other states, he said.

"We want to continue that. We don't want to raise those (license fees)," Taylor said. "What I have suggested — and others before me — is that we have this restitution fine."

Legislators pointed out that hunting and fishing are economic drivers for most of the state — and they want visitors to continue coming from out of state to enjoy Missouri's natural resources.

The bill has undergone several changes, according to state Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis.

McCreery said it was disappointing to see the potential fines lowered as a compromise with Senate leaders.

The range in fines gives a judge a little bit of flexibility in assessing penalties against offenders, Taylor said.

"I'm OK with the change, if this is what we needed to do to move this bill forward," he said. "I think it's a reasonable ask. It's still a significant increase on what we had."

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