The Nashville Tennessean - Editorial

Reserve amendment for bigger fish

Sept. 17, 2010, Editorial

"What does it take to get near-consensus out of the 130 or so mem­bers of the Ten­nessee Gen­eral Assem­bly? Not edu­ca­tion, not unem­ploy­ment, not crack­ing down on vio­lent crime. And ot taxes (but close).

Hunt­ing and fishing.

Ear­lier this year, the Sen­ate voted 31–0 to approve an amend­ment to the Ten­nessee Con­sti­tu­tion that would guar­an­tee that “the cit­i­zens of this state shall have the per­sonal right to hunt and fish, sub­ject to rea­son­able reg­u­la­tions and restric­tions pre­scribed by law.’’ The House fol­lowed suit, vot­ing 90–1, with two abstentions.

Those votes and the governor’s sig­na­ture placed the pro­posed amend­ment on the statewide bal­lot for Nov. 2, where Ten­nessee vot­ers must approve it for it to move for­ward in a lengthy process of amend­ing the constitution.

Still, if you won­der why such an amend­ment would be needed in a state crawl­ing with out­doors­men, you are not alone. As a recent Ten­nessean report noted, even other hunters won­der about it.

Back­ers of the amend­ment say it is needed to pre­vent animal-rights activists from get­ting mea­sures through the leg­is­la­ture that would cur­tail the rights of hunters and anglers — but you’ve seen how the leg­is­la­ture votes on this issue.

The amendment’s authors seem to have their eye on orga­ni­za­tions such as Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of Ani­mals (PETA), known for its attention-grabbing meth­ods and fact-stretching argu­ments. But the group has no orga­nized affil­i­ate in Ten­nessee, and their stunts — such as PETA’s recent let­ter to the chan­cel­lor of UT-Chattanooga demand­ing he elim­i­nate the school fish­ing team — are unlikely to gain any traction.

The Ten­nessee Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion also cited a recent vote in the Michi­gan leg­is­la­ture ban­ning hunt­ing of the mourn­ing dove. But hunt­ing of that par­tic­u­lar fowl had only been allowed for two years pre­vi­ously. There is no anal­o­gous case in Ten­nessee. In fact, offi­cials here are look­ing to add species, such as sand­hill cranes, that may be hunted.

The many orga­ni­za­tions and promi­nent indi­vid­u­als who have spo­ken in sup­port of this pro­posed amend­ment gen­uinely care about the “hon­ored tra­di­tions’’ of hunt­ing and fish­ing in this state, as the res­o­lu­tion terms it. But they should be care­ful of unin­tended con­se­quences of going too far.

By enshrin­ing hunt­ing and fish­ing as a “per­sonal right,’’ the amend­ment could make state wildlife reg­u­la­tions vul­ner­a­ble to legal chal­lenges — the phrase “sub­ject to rea­son­able reg­u­la­tions and restric­tions pre­scribed by law’’ notwith­stand­ing. The word “rea­son­able’’ is the prob­lem, as it is vague and open to interpretation.

If a plain­tiff is able to argue that no per­sonal right should be sub­ject to, for exam­ple, fees charged for a Ten­nessee hunt­ing or fish­ing license, the state sud­denly has lost a cru­cial rev­enue source. Those fees pay for offi­cials who mon­i­tor wildlife habi­tats and help pre­vent over-hunting or over-fishing. Cer­tainly, no respon­si­ble hunter or fish­er­man would want that.

Lastly, a sim­ple res­o­lu­tion of the House and Sen­ate would have suf­ficed to send the mes­sage that hunt­ing and fish­ing is here to stay. Mak­ing this a mat­ter of such urgency as to amend the Ten­nessee Con­sti­tu­tion, which typ­i­cally con­cerns itself with free­dom of reli­gion, the right to a fair trial and so on, tends to cheapen that foun­da­tional document."