Lawmakers say insurance regulation hinder deer meat program

 

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Former Division of Fish & Wildlife Sportsmen Against Hunger program manager Wayne Lehman with one of the deer coolers maintained by the division. (Submitted photo/Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control)

DOVER — A group of lawmakers believes insurance regulations are hurting donations to a program designed to help hungry Delawareans.

Since 1992, the Sportsmen Against Hunger program has served to provide deer meat to charities across the state, with hunters donating excess or unwanted venison that is then distributed to the needy. More than nine tons were donated in the 2014-2015 hunting season, making the program “one of Delaware’s most altruistic endeavors,” according to a Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control spokesman.

But a newly enforced statute regarding insurance coverage has led to a drop in donations this year, several frustrated legislators said.

The General Assembly’s Sportsmen’s Caucus wrote a letter to Insurance Commissioner Karen Weldin Stewart last month requesting information on recent imposition of a regulation that requires butchers to have $3 million worth of aggregate coverage.

“Beginning with the 2015-2016 hunting season, all privately owned butchers who accepted donated deer for the Hunger Program were considered a ‘vendor’ and required to obtain insurance with liability limits of at least $1 million per occurrence and $3 million in the aggregate,” reads the letter. “As most insurance policies issue standard limits of $1/$2 million, the $3 million aggregate limit necessitates the purchase of an umbrella policy in most circumstances.”

The letter was signed by the four chairmen of Sportsmen’s Caucus: Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown; Sen. Bruce Ennis, D-Smyrna; Rep. Jeff Spiegelman, R-Clayton; and Rep. William Carson, D-Smyrna.

After 10 butchers took part and 18,211 pounds were donated the year before, eight butchers participated in the program this season. A total of 15,736 pounds was supplied for needy citizens.

While the added cost may only total about $250 for a butcher, Rep. Spiegelman said Tuesday, the regulation requires them to shell out “in order to participate in a charitable program.”

“If you had to take out expanded insurance in order to donate toys or clothing, you wouldn’t donate toys or clothing,” he said.

The regulation is not new but it had not been followed before, Office of Management and Budget spokeswoman Jessica Eisenbrey said.

“DNREC undertook a review of all of their contracting procedures including those for professional services,” she said. “As a result of this review they determined they had not consistently enforced the insurance requirement and began enforcing it with the 2015/2016 Sportsmen Against Hunger program. The insurance requirement is one OMB requires all state agencies include in any contract or agreement with an outside vendor to protect the vendors and the state from liability. DNREC is now enforcing the insurance requirement for any vendor with which they have a professional services contract.”

DNREC spokesman Michael Globetti declined comment on much of the issue but noted hunters could still donate meat to one of eight walk-in coolers around the state. From there, meat is quickly taken to the Sussex Correctional Institution in Georgetown, where inmates process it.

While the decreased level of donations has not put the program in “crisis” mode, the Sportsmen’s Caucus is looking to change the $3 million requirement, Rep. Spiegelman said. The best way to do that may end up being through legislation, although he is hoping there is a simpler option, such as with a department-led regulatory change. The caucus has spoken to officials from other states who encountered similar problems.

Neither Rep. Spiegelman nor Ms. Eisenbrey are aware of an incidents where a person became sick from eating donated venison, but Ms. Eisenbrey stressed “the insurance requirement is being enforced for any vendor with which DNREC has a professional services contract and is not specific to this program.”

Still, Rep. Spiegelman believes the program is being limited as a result of government overreach and “bureaucratic bumbling.”

“If we’re really interested in helping the less fortunate we should be making program easier, not harder,” he said.

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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