ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — A Maryland county executive has said he will keep a venison food relief program up and running despite being told by a state agency and other officials that it violates state law.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said he plans to continue the program that rewards hunters for donating venison to the Anne Arundel County Food Bank, the Capital Gazette reported Thursday.

Hunters can earn $50 for every legally harvested deer delivered to a participating county butcher. Pittman funded it with $128,000 in federal coronavirus relief dollars on Nov. 1, the newspaper reported.

The Department of Natural Resources, Assistant Attorney General David Stamper and Republican state Sen. Jack Bailey, of Calvert and St Mary’s counties, say the program is likely a violation of law because the county is giving hunters $50 for each deer, which they say constitutes an “exchange.”

In a letter dated Nov. 12, Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio wrote to Pittman expressing “immense concern” about the program and backing from the Office of the Attorney General regarding the code violation. The letter does not order Pittman to shut down the program, instead expressing hope to “address legal deficiencies.”

The county Office of Law noted the $50 is a reimbursement for hunters’ time and efforts in harvesting the deer. County Attorney Greg Swain wrote in an opinion the hunters are not paid for the whole or proportional value of the donated deer. Similarly, the participating butchers are being paid by the county to process the animals, but they do not keep any deer parts. It all goes to the food bank, Swain wrote.

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