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VOL. 125 | NO. 205 | Thursday, October 21, 2010

Right to Hunt Amendment Caps 20-Year Fight

By Bill Dries

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Below the list of 16 candidates for Tennessee governor on the Nov. 2 ballot is a proposed amendment to the Tennessee Constitution that has been 20 years in the making.

Voters casting early ballots through Oct. 28 and on Election Day will decide whether hunting and fishing become a “personal right” in Tennessee.

The proposed amendment nestled to the left side of the ballot just below Carl Twofeathers Whitaker reads: “The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law. The recognition of this right does not abrogate any private or public property rights, nor does it limit the state’s power to regulate commercial activity. Traditional manners and means may be used to take non-threatened species.”

It would be an addition to Article 11, Section 13 of the constitution, the section that gives the Legislature the power to pass laws for “the protection and preservation of game and fish.”

The amendment is the goal of state Sen. Doug Jackson, of Dickson.

“Who would argue here today but that all of Tennessee benefits when a parent takes a child hunting and fishing as opposed to taking a child to a shopping mall?” Jackson asked rhetorically on the Senate floor earlier this year when the measure won final approval. “The tradition of hunting and fishing is worth defending.”

Some legislators who voted for it raised the same question.

“Are we in imminent danger of people not being allowed to hunt or fish in this state?” asked state Sen. Beverly Marrero of Memphis during a 2009 committee session. “I wasn’t aware of the fact that anyone had been stopped. Is there a real need for altering the Constitution for something that Tennesseans have been doing since the inception of our state?”

Marrero persisted in asking specifically who was trying to stop hunting and fishing.

Jackson told Marrero it was People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

PETA officials have said the organization opposes hunting but have also repeatedly said that they have made no moves and don’t intend to start any campaigns to limit hunting or fishing in any state.

Voters in several other states are considering similar amendments.

The only concern in Nashville came early on from the National Rifle Association, which wanted the amendment to be what Jackson said would have been a “fundamental right.”

It also would have limited regulations and restrictions on hunting and fishing to those enacted during the 10 years before ratification of the amendment.

In a May 2005 legal opinion, the Attorney General’s office expressed concern that an NRA amendment would conflict with federal law and would not allow the Legislature or the state’s wildlife agencies to add species to the list of those endangered. The opinion also said the NRA amendment might limit the state’s ability to regulate commercial fishing effectively.

The NRA version was dropped.

Some critics of the ballot initiatives in other states have said they are a response to the dropping number of Americans interested in hunting and fishing.

The Tennessee referendum goes on the ballot just as the city of Memphis has made a large civic bet in the other direction with plans for a Bass Pro Shops super store and other attractions in The Pyramid.

After the 2004 opening of FedExForum and a no-compete clause in its contract rendered The Pyramid useless as an arena, the city pursued the outdoor retailer as the best adaptive reuse of the structure.

The city and Bass Pro came to contract terms in July.

Bass Pro executives are working closely with officials of Ducks Unlimited on plans for conservation and wildlife exhibits for The Pyramid. DU officials moved their headquarters from Chicago to Shelby Farms in 1992.

DU is supporting the Tennessee amendment, said DU communications director Tony Dolle.

“We are urging our members to vote for it in Tennessee,” Dolle said. “We have such a strong hunting heritage. We would hate to see anything diminish that. This is a way to ensure that Tennesseans have that right to hunt and fish in the future. While there are threats in some states I’m sure … there haven’t been any threats that I know of in Tennessee. It’s just good insurance.”

The Legislature considers many more amendments to the state constitution than make it to the ballot.

One amendment rejected in 2009 would have added language “to provide that nothing in the Constitution of Tennessee secures or protects the right to a vasectomy.”

Another amendment still in committee would provide for the popular election of the state’s attorney general.

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