Bill to expand powers of conservation officers clears House

Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife

FRANKFORT, Ky. (WTVQ) —Kentucky Fish and Wildlife conservation officers would have the same statutory powers as other law enforcement officers in the state under a bill that has passed the state House.

Current state law prohibits conservation officers from acting outside of the scope of the work of the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources unless called upon by the Kentucky State Police, says House Bill 274 sponsor Rep. Chris Fugate, R-Chavies. Under HB 274, which is also sponsored by Rep. David Hale, R-Wellington, conservation officers would have the authority to enforce all state laws whenever necessary.

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Fugate, a retired Kentucky state trooper, said conservation officers helped him in one of the biggest drug and gun cases of his career.

“Their canine units came to a scene where we had looked for guns for a week and, in 30 minutes, their canine unit found 15 or 20 illegal guns that had been stolen. So this just gives them the authority in law to do what they’ve been doing instead of acting upon a letter from the State Police,” said Fugate.

Additionally, the bill would allow conservation officers to be compensated if they are required to pay damages or other costs as a result of a job-related lawsuit.

Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, asked Fugate if the liability of conservation officers would change under HB 274. Fugate said it would.

“(It) would be just like a Kentucky State Police trooper who is sued in the line of duty. It would be the same,” said Fugate.

HB 274 passed the House by a vote of 97-1. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.