Should right to hunt and fish be in the state’s constitution? Indiana voters will decide

Should right to hunt and fish be in the state's constitution? Indiana voters will decide.
Should right to hunt and fish be in the state's constitution? Indiana voters will decide.

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — In addition to candidates, voters in Indiana will have the option to add the right to hunt and fish to the state’s constitution when they cast their ballots.

Known as Public Question One, voters will be asked: Shall the Constitution of the State of Indiana be amended by adding a Section 39 to Article 1 to provide that the right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife shall be forever preserved for the public good, subject only to the laws prescribed by the General Assembly and rules prescribed by virtue of the authority of the General Assembly to : (1) promote wildlife conservation and management; and (2) preserve the future of hunting and fishing?

“It’s the result of every year, if not every year, there’s always been some kind of encounter with groups and organizations that get individuals that approached the legislature about the certain aspects of hunting and not just in Indiana, it’s happened all across the country,” said State Senator Jim Tomes who coauthored the amendment that passed through the legislature.

But both those in favor of the amendment and those against it agree on one thing: there is no current or specific threat to hunting and fishing in Indiana.

“Nothing that I know of here,” said Tomes, “it’s just an opportunity, we can put it away and just don’t lose a lot of time every year in discussions and a standoff with this kind of a topic.”

“Hunting and fishing in Indiana is under no threat of being eliminated and therefore, as others have said, this is a solution in search of a problem,” said Tim Maloney, Senior Policy Director for the Hoosier Environmental Council.

But those in favor of the amendment, like Tomes, worry there could be threats to the outdoor activities down the line.

“I can’t say that nothing will happen when people suggest different things, well we always hear the comment ‘That will never happen.’ Well, in our world today, don’t ever say that will never happen, I mean if we just review our news articles and the stories that come in our papers we read about things like that this is just sort of an insurance that in the future, whether it be legislature or administrations or whatever on a whim decides that they want to some way or another pass an ordinance or pass a law that could have a negative impact on those traditions. That’s all this is doing is just ensuring that doesn’t happen,” Tomes said.

“Giving it constitutional protection just goes beyond what is needed or what’s reasonable and in our view, and a lot of folks few that we’ve heard from and talked to, is that this trivializes the constitution when you put in, continue to, seek to add protections for activities that don’t rise to the level of the fundamental values that are in our U.S. Bill of Rights and the Bill of Rights in the Indiana Constitution and where does this end? What do we make golf a constitutionally protected activity? Golf’s been around for hundreds of years, it’s a traditional past time, a lot of American’s do it, but I think few people would agree that golf should be a constitutionally protected activity,” Maloney said.

The Hoosier Environmental Council is also concerned about the possibility of unintended consequences.

“The State of Indiana’s ability to not only regulate fishing and hunting but carry out all their fish and wildlife protection activities could be under a cloud if those reasonable regulatory activities are challenged in court and a court might say, tell the Indiana Department of Natural Resources ‘Well, you can’t protect these species’ or ‘You can’t limit this hunting season’ because of this constitutional protection,” Maloney said.

“I don’t think anyone is really going to see any difference in anything, the agencies that establish rules on hunting and fishing and trapping, they’ll continue what they will do,” Tomes said.

In a statement, the DNR said, “The DNR does not have a position for or against the proposed amendment, which states that the constitutional right to hunt and fish is ‘subject only to the laws prescribed by the general assembly.’ The DNR’s authority to manage fish and wildlife resources, which comes from the General Assembly and is spelled out in Indiana law (Indiana Code 14-22-1-1), would not be impacted.”

The amendment is backed by the National Rifle Association. In a statement on their website from Chris Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action said, “Indiana sportsmen and women know the importance of protecting America’s treasured outdoor heritage for future generations. Voting for ‘Question 1’ on the November ballot will protect those cherished traditions in the Hoosier state from efforts by well-funded national extremist groups to ban hunting.”