State Rep. Frank Niceley moves white-tail deer farming measure to his committee

NASHVILLE - State Rep. Frank Niceley moved Wednesday to bypass a committee where his bill to legalize white-tail deer farming in Tennessee has been corralled and instead steered it with an unusual maneuver into a committee where he is the herd boss.

The committee swap was not immediately successful. Officials of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, who oppose the legislation before the first committee, promptly repeated their opposition to the new forum.

Niceley originally proposed to allow white-tail deer farming through HB1112, which was assigned to the House Conservation Committee.

Lengthy hearings have been held on the bill there, but no vote taken as it appeared there was more opposition than support among members of the panel.

On Wednesday, Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, effectively shifted the bill to the House Agriculture Committee, of which he is chairman.

This was possible because Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, allowed Niceley to take over sponsorship of HB94, which was introduced as a bill requiring owners of potentially dangerous animals to attend an "educational course" on handing of such animals.

The original content of HB94 was removed by amendment and replaced with the language of HB1112 - plus a declaration at the outset prohibiting the importation of animals into Tennessee from states that have experienced an outbreak of chronic wasting disease, also known as CWD.

The committee went along with the change in content of HB94 but postponed for one week a vote, with Niceley's assent, after Nat Johnson, deputy director of TWRA, and Mike Butler, executive director of the 30,000-member wildlife federation, stepped forward to oppose the revised bill - saying they had not seen it until shortly before the Agriculture Committee meeting.

Johnson said importation into Tennessee of domesticated white-tail deer, which flourish as wild animals in the state, would pose a risk of introducing CWD. Niceley said TWRA had imported elk into the state in the past and was now being hypocritical by opposing deer importation under "extremely strict" circumstances.

Niceley said after the Wednesday meeting that he is optimistic the idea can win a majority in the Agriculture Committee.

He said the bill should have been assigned to the Agriculture Committee in the first place, since the Department of Agriculture would oversee deer farms under his bill.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, acting with the advice of the House Clerk Joe McCord, decides which committees should hear a given bill.