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If voters are still be deciding between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney or which of the 10 Shelbyville City Council candidates to choose on Nov. 6, they might also be surprised to see a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
And the amendment might strike them as odd, as well.
It seems the proposed Personal Right To Hunt and Fish amendment was quietly passed through the state House and Senate, right to the ballot for voters to decide.
“There was really no debate at all, that I recall,” said Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville).
Known as House Bill 1, the amendment, if approved by voters, would add a new section to the commonwealth’s constitution that would ensure Kentuckians the personal right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife using traditional methods, subject to laws for wildlife conservation and management that preserve the future of hunting.
The amendment would also designate public hunting and fishing as the preferred way to manage and control wildlife.
If approved, Kentucky would join 12 other states with constitutional amendments protecting hunting and fishing, including Vermont, which had it on the books as early as 1777. Idaho, Nebraska and Wyoming also have constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot.
Introduced by Rep. Leslie Combs (D-Pikeville) and Rep. Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg), the amendment essentially would ensure that Kentuckians never would see the right to hunt or fish outlawed.
Although this may seem like legislation without purpose, the amendment actually could be proactive.
“I think some that are very active in hunting and fishing see a trend in some states where they are limiting what hunters can do,” Montell said. “This, I think, is a more pre-emptive move. Hunting and fishing are basic rights that Kentuckians probably just take for granted. I’m not opposed to this at all.”
But the amendment may be taking some of the most active outdoors enthusiasts by surprise.
One of them, Tom Runyan, said this is all news to him.
“I had not heard anything about it,” said Runyan, who lives on Aiken Road and is active in hunting, trapping and even donating land for 4-H members to shoot trap. “But you have to be suspicious of anything to do with firearms [because of gun control]. If you talk about the ‘right to hunt,’ I guess a lot of that may be some kind of gun control.
“But if you are talking about hunting and consuming what you hunt wouldn’t be endangered, that would be a good thing to put on the ballot. Hunters are probably a minority, but they would be for it.”
Stumbo, who is also the House speaker, in an interview with WFPL-FM, a Louisville-based public radio station, said: “The real meat of this amendment to me is that it guarantees that the wildlife herds and our fishery population will be controlled by wildlife management.”
Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) said his first thought was why a constitutional amendment?
“When we discussed it during the last legislative session, my personal opinion – and I did vote for it – but my personal opinion was that I didn’t know if it needed to be a constitutional amendment,” he said. “I don’t know that it needs to be in there, but I have no problem with it.”
Hornback called the proactive move a “good thing.”
“Nobody is actively trying to take away those rights now, but it’s better to play offense than defense,” he said. “You can’t think anyone would come in to Kentucky and try to take those rights away, but who could say what the landscape will look like in fifteen or twenty years?
“I think this is a good way to prepare for the future, to ensure that Kentuckians retain the right to hunt and fish. And preparing for the future is something we don’t really do enough of.”
Runyan said that one thing you have to understand is that, no matter what the amendment might say, there are different laws administered by state fish and wildlife officers and federal authorities.
“We have a goose season in Kentucky,” he said. “The department of fish and wildlife some years back brought in about a hundred pairs of Canadian geese. We have a huntable goose population. Even though state game and fish made that happen, federal law affects when we can hunt geese and ducks. And we have a large duck population.
“You always have the state and feds selling stamps to control the hunting.”