Friday, March 30, 2012

Right to life, liberty—and hunting

Idaho voters will have chance to amend Constitution

Express Staff Writer

A coyote looks for prey along Warm Springs Creek near Ketchum earlier this month. A proposed amendment to the Idaho Constitution would add language saying that the state will preserve citizens’ right to hunt and that hunting, trapping and fishing would be the state’s preferred methods of wildlife management. Photo by Roland Lane

Should hunting be a constitutional right? Idahoans will get to answer that question in November, when a question about amending the state Constitution to include the right to hunt, fish and trap will appear on the ballot.

After weeks of debate and a number of amendments, a bill proposing a new section to the Constitution passed the House last Thursday and the Senate on Tuesday—despite protests from some Democrats.

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she voted for the bill the first time it went through the Senate. However, she said, once it was amended by the House, the language became more vague.

"The original constitutional amendment went through quite a bit of rigor," she said. "When you are talking about a constitutional amendment, you need to make sure it streamlines into existing code and that there are no unintended consequences."

The original proposal, which is roughly seven lines shorter than the approved proposal, simply stated that the right to hunt, fish and trap would be preserved for Idahoans by the state.

When the bill was sent to the House, however, the National Rifle Association and other organizations added more language to the proposal, such as specifications that public hunting, fishing and trapping of wildlife would be the preferred method of wildlife management and that "traditional methods" of hunting would be included in the statute.

"Like what, spears?" said Stennett in an interview. "[That language] really muddied the bill up. It made it too ambiguous for me to support."

The joint resolution passed through what the National Rifle Association called "overwhelming support" in the Senate with 31 in favor and three against. Support for the bill was even higher in the House, with 63 in favor and four opposed.

Similar constitutional amendments are already slated to be on the November ballot in Nebraska and Kentucky. Amendments in all three states have been supported by the National Rifle Association, which says its goal is to provide protections for sportsmen's rights.

"Hunting, fishing and harvesting of wildlife are part of the American fabric," said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action. "These constitutional amendments are a concerted effort by the NRA to help preserve America's rich hunting heritage that is increasingly under attack by well-organized and well-funded anti-hunting radicals."

Stennett said her main concern is that voters in November might not be able to wade through confusing language and understand the essence of the bill.

"It's a really big deal to do a constitutional amendment," she said. "What we had before was crystal clear. From our end, we were super careful, because we wanted it to be crystal clear for the voters."

Idaho voters will be able to approve or reject the measure on November's ballot. Exact language will be distributed prior to the vote in a sample ballot.

Katherine Wutz:

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