Lawmaker urged Abbott to veto bill legalizing hot air balloon hog hunting

A Republican lawmaker fears a new Texas law that allows the hunting of wild pigs and coyotes from hot air balloons could lead to “future catastrophes” without increased oversight of commercial ballooning. 

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A Republican lawmaker trying to convince Gov. Greg Abbott to veto a bill allowing the hunting of wild pigs and coyotes from hot air balloons wrote that it could lead to “future catastrophes” because of lax regulation of commercial ballooning. 

“The serious problems that currently exist with hot air balloon flights were not adequately addressed during this bill’s consideration,” state Rep. John Cyrier wrote in the May 27 letter to Abbott, obtained recently by The Texas Tribune through an open records request. 

Cyrier, whose hometown of Lockhart was the site of a deadly balloon crash last summer, added that he is “especially concerned that the bill creates a false sense of safety” when it comes to hot air balloons.

Cyrier's letter didn't sway Abbott, who signed the legislation in early June. The new law will take effect Sept. 1.

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The bill’s author, state Rep. Mark Keough, R-The Woodlands, said in a written statement that the new law “will open a whole new industry towards eliminating the growing population of feral hogs in the State of Texas."

Last July, 16 people died when a hot air balloon hit a power line, then crashed in a field

Investigations following the crash revealed the balloon’s pilot had a lengthy criminal record including drug and alcohol-related driving charges. He also held prescriptions for the painkiller oxycodone and the generic form of Valium, two drugs prohibited by Federal Aviation Administration medical guidelines for pilots. 

The FAA did not know this because it does not require a medical certificate for balloon operators, unlike other commercial pilots. Since the accident, the federal agency has come under pressure to increase its oversight of commercial balloon tours.

Keough's bill, which passed both chambers unanimously in May, received no testimony during its House and Senate committee hearings.

“With everything going on during session, it was something that I personally had missed, and I wish I wouldn’t have missed it because I would have said something during that time period, and at least would have asked questions,” Cyrier said.

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Texas officials have explored various methods of fighting the state’s population of more than 2 million feral hogs, an invasive species that destroys crops, pastures and waterways. The latest plan from Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller — a warfarin-based pesticide — is currently on hold after the poison’s manufacturer withdrew its request to operate in the state after outcry from meat processors and hog hunters.

In 2011, the Legislature passed a measure allowing the hunting of feral hogs by helicopter known as the “pork-chopper bill.”

Cyrier, a licensed airplane pilot, said he had hunted hogs from helicopters on more than 10 occasions.

He said the variables at play with a balloon — including lack of control of which direction it goes — made him question whether it would even be possible to hunt from one.

“I just don’t see this being effective,” he said.