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On Nov. 6, among the many important decisions voters will be asked to make is one that they should not make: to pass an amendment to the state constitution that establishes hunting and fishing as legacy activities in the state.
That is shorthand language for the Personal Right to Hunt and Fish Amendment, which was placed on the ballot by a quick and somewhat quietly authored House Bill 1 that passed the legislature earlier this year and became part of the election process without so much as a peep from the legislature.
Just to be clear, we have no objection to hunting and fishing as either recreational pursuits or environmental necessities. We also understand that Daniel Boone first was lured over the Cumberland Gap by the propensity and variety of game in the state. This is important stuff.
But is it so important to rank as a principle point in the governmental structure of our state? Do they know of any imminent threat to our freedom to hunt and fish?
No and no.
We were stunned to see a sample ballot for the election and to find the amendment listed, and we immediately started to ask who was raising threats to these long-time leisure and economic concerns and why it was a matter on par with the other elements covered in constitutional amendments, such as the right to free speech, the right to worship as you see fit, the right to bear arms and foundational pursuits of life, liberty and happiness.
Proponents of the amendment say that this language would be in place to counter any potential threat to hunting and fishing. But even they admit there is no such opposition within their telescopic sights.
Unsurprisingly, some – dare we say the vast majority? – of the most avid outdoors enthusiasts among you haven’t even heard of this amendment and have no clue why it might be appropriate, other than simply to speculate on the future.
After all, that’s what appears to be happening in the General Assembly. As House President Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg), the bill’s author, said: “You never know when something might pop up.”
State Rep. Brad Montell (R-Shelbyville) and state Sen. Paul Hornback (R-Shelbyville) have said they agree with being cautious.
Doesn’t this seem a bit fishy?
We have laws to address issues involving hunting and fishing. We have a state cabinet to oversee it. We have a federal cabinet to oversee it. We don’t have either of those clamoring for constitutional privilege.
Yet, we have this amendment on the ballot for your consideration, and we have little doubt that it will pass, just as it has in 12 other states, albeit at least one of them back before we had very much experience in constitutional law (see Vermont, 1777).
We fear, however, that this will establish a pattern of opportunity that will make it difficult for legislators who are easily swayed by external influences to say “no” to other constitutional requests.
Could you imagine constitutional amendments that say owning horses, driving Fords, mining coal or drinking bourbon are principle rights of Kentuckians and are forever part of our governmental structure?
All of those are more influential than hunting and fishing in our state and are under far more frequent fire, if you will. But would they deserve such reinforcement? Of course not.
And neither should hunting and fishing.
Legislatures in some states argue about real issues of public good, about whether to require a balanced budget or allow people of the same sex to marry or to limit terms in state office (as Kentucky has). We certainly have issues with paying for Medicaid and restructuring our state pensions.
But now, with this amendment, we can argue that we can shoot and hook any prey we want, it’s our constitutional right, by gum it.