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Bill expands Fish and Game officers' authority on the road

CONCORD — Fish and Game conservation officers would be able to help in the North Country and other rural areas enforcing motor vehicles laws under Senate Bill 389, which House and Senate negotiators finalized Wednesday.

Supporters say SB 389 would help small communities, particularly those in the North Country with part-time police forces, by allowing conservation officers to pursue off-road vehicles when going from trails to highways, and to stop impaired, reckless or speeding drivers.

During negotiations, senators agreed to go along with the House version of the bill.

During the House debate earlier this month, supporters said the change is a long time coming.

“Fish and Game should be able to do this to help our towns and maybe prevent that drunken driver from going down that road and hurting somebody,” Rep. Joe Duarte, R-Candia, said during the debate. “Most municipalities and the State Police support this.”

Conservation officers receive the same training as the state police and local police and are trained to administer a field sobriety test, supporters have said.

Some are concerned the Fish and Game Department, which is cash-strapped as it is largely funded by a declining number of hunting and fishing licenses, would ask to use highway funds to help pay for conservation officers if they are allowed to enforce motor vehicle laws.

They argue adding traffic enforcement would take officers away from their primary duties and further drain the agency’s resources. The House and Senate will vote next week on the compromise.

If House and Senate approve the bill and the governor signs it, conservation officers would be able to enforce motor vehicle laws 60 days after it passes.

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