Referendum to make hunting, fishing, trapping a constitutional right garners support from 30 senators

A majority of Montana’s state senators backed a measure to ask voters to decide whether hunting, fishing and trapping should become constitutional rights in the 2018 general election.

Senate Bill 236, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, would create a ballot initiative to put in Montana’s constitution the right for Montana citizens to hunt, fish and trap. Measures that ask for a ballot initiative require 100 votes total between the Senate and the House and don’t need the governor’s signature.

In an initial vote on Monday, 30 Senators supported the bill. It faces a final Senate vote on Tuesday — the vote that will actually count toward the 100 necessary.

 Fielder said the bill will strengthen the state constitution’s protections for these activities.

“The language in the existing Montana constitution is unclear,” Fielder said.

She also said strengthening the language will help fight off future attempts to limit hunting or trapping in the state, such as the ballot measure voters rejected in November to ban trapping on public lands.

But opponents of the bill said the protections within the constitution are strong enough and that the failure of the trapping initiative last fall shows that the activity isn’t in serious danger.

“We don’t need to change something that already works,” said Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman.

In a February committee hearing, the bill garnered support from the Montana Trappers Association and the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association, among others. A number of conservation groups and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks opposed it.

The bill was amended slightly before being sent out of the Senate Fish and Game committee on a 6-5 vote. The amendment turned some opposition into support — namely, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation — but it didn’t eliminate all opposition.

Nick Gevock, the conservation director for the Montana Wildlife Federation, said his group still opposes the measure because they believe changing the constitution requires more careful consideration than can be found in the “hurried emotion of a 90-day legislative session.”

On the Senate floor Monday, Fielder said the bill is similar to laws passed in 14 other states, including Idaho. In a post on its website, the National Conference of State Legislatures says {a style=”font-size: 12px;” href=”http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/state-constitutional-right-to-hunt-and-fish.aspx#5” target=”_blank”}21 states{/a} across the country guarantee the right to hunt and fish, including Montana.

Montana’s current law guarantees the “opportunity” to hunt, and Fielder’s bill would change that word to “right,” which she said has a more clear legal definition.

“It’s time for Montana to step up,” she said.

But some worry that the change could upend wildlife management within the state. An internal memo from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks provided to the Chronicle said the bill would endanger the state’s ability to charge residents and nonresidents different prices for hunting and fishing licenses. The memo says the change would likely draw a legal challenge and that a court might find that the state is discriminating against non-residents by charging them higher license fees.

Phillips mentioned this on the Senate floor Monday, saying the change could result in the state “giving the deal of the century to nonresidents” by lowering out-of-state license fees.

“If you feel lucky in court, vote for 236,” he said.

Sen. Jeff Welborn, R-Dillon, and Sen. Terry Gauthier, R-Helena, joined the Senate’s 18 Democrats in voting against the bill. The measure will need 70 votes in the House to pass, which means that even if all Republicans support it, they will need at least 11 votes from Democrats. Two House Democrats are listed as sponsors of the bill — Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy of Box Elder and Rep. Brad Hamlett of Cascade.

 

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3 thoughts on “Referendum to make hunting, fishing, trapping a constitutional right garners support from 30 senators

  1. Of course. This is a trend going global. Make animal abuse a matter of cultural heritage or a constitutional right. They will not rest until all restraints are gone. And once declared a constitutional right, what is the chance of stopping it? Amending the constitution or sending it to the Supreme Court?

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