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Stuart’s game warden bill fails in Senate

The state Senate has voted down Sen. Richard Stuart’s bill that would have stripped from game wardens police powers and the authority to check hunters and fishermen for licenses.

The vote was 15 to 25, killing the bill.

Stuart said he brought the bill because game wardens’ authority to stop and search people violates the Fourth Amendment and goes beyond the powers of other police officers.

“They have more power than any other law enforcement agency in the state of Virginia, and I would propose to you more power than federal law enforcement,” Stuart said. “They can stop you because they think you’re hunting. This is an overreach for law enforcement and I’m a very staunch advocate for law enforcement, and that’s why I think this is so important. Our citizens deserve to have the protection that the Constitution gives us.”

But other senators said Stuart’s bill would make it impossible to enforce Virginia’s game laws, in part because it removed game wardens’ ability to ask people who are hunting or fishing to show their licenses.

Stuart said doing that is like a State Police trooper stopping all drivers to make sure they’re carrying their licenses.

Police don’t do that, he said, and game wardens shouldn’t be able to check every sportsman for a license — only the ones who have given the game warden a reason to believe they may be committing a crime.

But senators questioned how the game warden would know who’s committing a crime.

“A fellow standing in a river in waders, fishing, is not going to give you any indication of whether he’s violating a law or not violating a law,” said Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax.

Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, said the bill would harm all law enforcement capabilities in rural areas.

“If we take away the right to check the creel, the right to check the bag, we’re going to take an essential law enforcement tool away,” Deeds said.

Sen. Tom Garrett, R-Louisa, said game wardens’ ability to stop a hunter or fisherman and check his license and bags is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment, because it’s in the state’s interest to protect wildlife and prevent the spread of diseases.