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Bill would strip revenue agency of cattle branding requirement

Dermot Cole
Cattle on Wosnesenski Island, southwest of Kodiak Island. Currently, the state Department of Revenue is in the business of registering cattle brands, an administrative duty that takes in a whopping $146 in revenue each year. USFWS / Steve Ebbert

FAIRBANKS -- In addition to collecting and managing billions in tax dollars, the Alaska Department of Revenue is charged with registering cattle brands.

Who knew?

But the department may soon be free to concentrate on billion-dollar questions if the just-introduced House Bill 231 -- “an act eliminating the Department of Revenue’s duty to register cattle brands” -- passes.

The measure, filed by House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Kenai, is among the more unusual entries in the list of 52 new bills and resolutions for 2014.

Others announced Friday include bills to:

• Require people to drive at all times with their headlights on;

• Expand liquor licenses for golf courses to allow sales of hard liquor, not just beer and wine;

• Limit the use of certain pesticides to the inside of greenhouses; and

• Permit the spouses of military members to keep driving with out-of-state licenses in Alaska.

The simplest of the pre-filed bills may be the cattle branding bill. Tom Wright, a Chenault aide, said the speaker is always looking for laws that have outlived their usefulness. This time, Chenault is proposing to take three words, “register cattle brands,” out of the list of Revenue Department duties. But that doesn’t mean that cattle branding will be done away with in Alaska.

While the Revenue Department has the authority to register brands, the Division of Agriculture has the authority to record brands and issue registrations.

There is an entire chapter in the agricultural section of state law with rules under which anyone who owns cattle, reindeer, bison, musk ox, elk, sheep, horses, mules or asses may create a brand. There are 146 active brands in Alaska.

Judging by the fees and fines in the brand statutes, that section appears to have been written in 1959, the first year of statehood. “A renewal period occurs every five years, beginning with January 1, 1960,” the state law says.

It still costs $1 every five years to renew a brand. Certified copies of a brand are $1, while the fee for recording the sale of a brand is $1.

When the 146 brand owners file for renewal in 2015 to keep their brands alive, the state will take in a grand total of $146.

The state has to notify the owners of the 146 brands at least 90 days before the five-year renewal expires. Those who don’t pay the $1 forfeit the brand. The state is required to publish a brand book every five years and charge no more than $2.

The state has given the book to brand owners who file the $1 renewal fee, which is probably more economical than collecting $2 a copy. The book includes a variety of marks, some applied with the traditional hot-branding iron method and others with a freezing-cold iron that destroys pigment in animal hair, creating a white mark.

While HB 231 may be starting out as a simple three-word change to bring our laws up to date, the Legislature ought to spend a little time expanding its review, setting fees that make sense for this century.

Contact Dermot Cole at dermot(at)alaskadispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcole.