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People who are both terminally ill and extremely poor qualify for free fishing licenses, but they may have to wade through a complicated and time-consuming process.

The 1992 Legislature approved SB66, sponsored by Sen. Dix H. McMullin, R-Salt Lake, which directs the Division of Wildlife Resources to provide a fishing license at no cost to anyone who can prove that he is expected to die within five years and who qualifies for a public-assistance program such as Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, Medicaid or Aid to Families with Dependent Children.Things are considerably more complicated for those who may qualify for, but do not currently receive, public assistance.

Applicants will have to visit a local Social Services office and fill out an application - a process that takes several hours, according to Gene Hofeling, program coordinator for the Office of Family Support. After the application is filled out, it could take days or even a few weeks to determine eligibility.

"I think the number who will have to go through the whole process will be very small," said Hofeling. "If someone is terminally ill and qualifies for a program, chances are they already receive assistance."

Terry Twitchell, public information officer for the Department of Human Services, said the application process may encourage people to sign up for public assistance.

Hofeling hopes it does. "If someone is terminally ill and living below our income poverty guidelines, they need help. That's what the programs are for."

Because of concerns about the time that may be spent processing the standard 26-page application just to see if someone can get a fishing license free, Twitchell said Human Services has requested an opinion from the attorney general's office. "Our workers are already having a hard time keeping up with demand," she said. "I don't know how they'll handle anything extra."

Wildlife Resources doesn't expect to be affected much by the new law, according to associate director Robert Hasenyager. The division discussed the bill with McMullin before it was introduced to clarify its purpose.

Applicants for the free fishing licenses can visit one of the regional offices (in Price, Vernal, Cedar City, Provo, Salt Lake and Ogden) and show a Medicaid, food stamp, SSI or other accepted ID card, along with a doctor's certification of medical condition.

"There is one other complication, though," Hasenyager said. "That is the willingness of physicians to indicate that someone is terminally ill and will die within five years. Many doctors probably would hesitate to put the time frame on it."