Ballot Initiative of the Day: Will Kentucky Make Hunting a Constitutional Right?

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California banned hunting bears and bobcats with dogs in September, but Kentucky is taking no risks with its own hunting laws. A constitutional amendment on the state’s ballot Tuesday proposes to make hunting a personal right and the preferred way to control animal populations. The amendment would add this language to Kentucky’s constitution:
The citizens of Kentucky have the personal right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife, using traditional methods, subject only to statutes enacted by the Legislature, and to administrative regulations adopted by the designated state agency to promote wildlife conservation and management and to preserve the future of hunting and fishing. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.

Democratic Representative Leslie Combs, one of the bill’s sponsors in the Kentucky Legislature, argues that the law reaffirms gun and private-property rights and that it has strong economic benefits. “Altogether, [hunting and fishing] bring in about $3 billion a year and they support 34,000 jobs,” she explained in an op-ed. “According to the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, they contribute more than $200 million to state and local governments annually.” The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources fully supports passage of the amendment, as does–unsurprisingly–the League of Kentucky Sportsmen and the National Rifle Association.

Opponents say the measure protects special interests and distracts from bigger issues. “Why not a right to shop or a right to golf?” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals spokeswoman Ashley Byrne told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Amendments like this threaten to open the door to a flood of other amendments whose sole purpose is to make political statements for political interest groups. It’s a solution in search of a problem.”

Nebraska, Wyoming and Idaho have similar measures on Tuesday’s ballot. The wording differs slightly between states: Nebraska, like Kentucky seeks to enshrine the right “to hunt, to fish and to harvest wildlife” while Idaho and Wyoming call it the right “to hunt, fish and trap.” Seven other states–Hawaii, Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi,  New Jersey, New Mexico, New York and Pennsylvania–tried to get constitutional hunting protections on the ballot in 2012 but failed. Since 1996, A total of twelve states have passed similar amendments on the right to hunt and fish since 1996. Before then, only Vermont had a constitutionally protected right to hunt and fish, dating back to 1777.