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State NewsHouse moves toward constitutional right to hunt and fish
By The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 26, 2005 8:05 AM EST
INDIANAPOLIS - The House approved legislation Tuesday that could ultimately lead to a state constitutional right to hunt, fish and trap, something proponents say would guard against efforts to erode a ''valued part of our heritage.''
Opponents said hunting and fishing were not under serious attack in Indiana, and the proposed constitutional amendment trivialized a document designed to address more fundamental rights and principles.
The resolution passed 83-15, with all ''no'' votes cast by Democrats, and now moves to the Senate for consideration. Amending the state constitution requires a resolution to pass consecutive, separately elected Legislatures and then win approval in a statewide vote of the people.
If the measure wins approval this year and again in either 2007 or 2008, it could be on the November 2008 general election ballot.
At least 10 states have constitutional provisions designating hunting, fishing, or both as rights, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Some also include trapping, and some states have written such rights into state law.
Voters in Montana and Louisiana amended their constitutions with hunting and fishing rights in the November election, both winning approval of 81 percent of the people.
The resolution approved by the Indiana House would read: ''The people have a right to hunt, fish and harvest game, which are a valued part of our heritage and shall forever be preserved for the public good, subject to laws prescribed by the General Assembly and rules prescribed by virtue of the authority of the General Assembly.'' The word ''harvest'' refers to trapping.
Several state constitutional provisions include similar language.
Republican Rep. John Ulmer of Goshen, an avid hunter, said some organizations were trying to eliminate hunting and fishing ''species by species, and then state by state.'' He specifically mentioned the Humane Society of the United States and Fund for Animals, organizations that recently merged.
Ulmer said the proposed amendment would still allow lawmakers and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to regulate hunting, fishing and trapping, just as they do now by establishing rules and seasons. But he said a constitutional right would give added protection to what many regard as cherished, recreational sports.
Heidi Prescott, senior vice president of campaigns for the Humane Society of the United States, said the organization is an advocate for protecting animals and considers state constitutional provisions for hunting and fishing rights frivolous.
''We believe the constitutions are sacred documents that should not be used as graffiti walls for political rhetoric,'' Prescott said. ''It's something the hunting community has been behind in a number of states, but it won't affect the future of hunting.''
Rep. Matt Pierce of Bloomington was one of the 15 House Democrats who voted against the proposed amendment.
''Does anyone think someone is going to outlaw hunting and fishing in the state of Indiana?'' Pierce said, adding that he had never had a constituent suggest that.
''We are turning our constitution these days into a poster board for political messages.''
Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, is among those who will sponsor the resolution in the Senate.