Despite being illegal in Connecticut, two bears were killed by a hunter in Wilton last year. The incident drew widespread media attention and public outcry, prompting Wilton’s state representative, Gail Lavielle (R-143), to request that the Judiciary Committee raise a bill strengthening penalties for bear hunting. Now that bill, HB 5469, is scheduled for a public hearing in Hartford on Wednesday, March 14.

Provisions in the bill include increasing fines for bear hunting from a maximum of $500 to a range of $500-$750 for first time offenses; from a maximum of $750 to a range of $750-$1,000 for second-time offenses; and from a maximum of $1,000 to a range of $1,000-$2,000 for third-time offenses. Maximum jail time would be doubled for second- and third-time offenses, with third-time offenders receiving up to one year in jail. The bill also mandates permanent revocation of an offender’s hunting license after the second offense, rather than the third.

In the Wilton incident last year, two individuals were arrested in relation to the killing of two black bears on private property in Wilton, and the taking of parts of the bears home as trophies. Many were further outraged when the individual charged with killing the bears received accelerated rehabilitation, a program that, if he completes it successfully, will allow him to expunge the charge from his record.

Lavielle submitted the bill request to the Judiciary Committee in response to residents who contacted her to urge increasing the penalties for bear hunting.

“Many constituents have told me that they don’t feel the current penalties are adequate punishment for the inhumane, illegal killing of these wild animals,” Lavielle says. “Certainly, in this case, our current laws were not sufficient to act as a deterrent. This bill aims to be more effective in preventing people from breaking the law, and to impose penalties that are commensurate with the offense.”

Lavielle encouraged concerned residents to submit testimony for the scheduled public hearing on HB 5469, and to include their opinions on whether the proposed penalties are too strong or not strong enough. For those who want to testify in person, the public hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, March 14, at 10:30 a.m. in Room 2D of the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. Those who prefer to submit written testimony may send an email and copy Rep. Lavielle. Emails should refer to the bill, “HB 5469,” in the subject line and include the resident’s name and town. There is no word limit on how short or lengthy written testimony can be.

In short sessions of the Connecticut General Assembly, which are held in even-numbered years, individual legislators may not introduce bills on non-financial subjects. Instead, they must submit formal requests to ask committees to raise bills on non-financial concepts. Rep. Lavielle used that procedure in this instance.

State Representative Gail Lavielle represents the 143rd district, which includes parts of Norwalk, Westport, and Wilton. She is the Ranking Member of the General Assembly’s Education Committee and a member of the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee and the Transportation Committee.