By John Celock
The Kansas House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation Monday that would amend the state constitution to guarantee the right to hunt and fish.
The House voted 117-7 to pass legislation that could make the state the 20th in the nation to approve such a constitutional amendment. Supporters said the amendment is needed to protect hunting and fishing in the state from outside groups seeking to limit the practice, along with protecting a $1 billion industry in the state. The amendment has been the top priority this year for the National Rifle Association and Kansas State Rifle Association. The bill now heads to the state Senate, which would have the ability to send it to a statewide referendum in the November election.
“This constitutional amendment is about preserving tradition,” Rep. James Todd (R-Overland Park), the carrier of the amendment, told the House. “It is about preserving family tradition and a Kansas way of life.”
Todd said the bill is needed to make sure that outside groups do not seek to pass laws in the state to limit hunting and fishing in the state. He and others noted that the bill would also protect what Todd said is an industry that has a $1 billion collateral impact on the Kansas economy annually.
“It says Kansas is open for business,” Rep. Adam Lusker (D-Pittsburg), a co-sponsor of the amendment said.
Lusker co-sponsored the amendment last year with then Rep. Travis Couture-Lovelady (R-Ellis), who has since stepped down to become a state liaison for the NRA.
Todd also noted that the bill has an impact on the state budget since the Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is funded by user fees from licenses to hunt, fish and trap.
Rep. Annie Tietze (D-Topeka), the top Democrat on the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, was the only member to speak against the proposal. Tietze said that while she is in favor of hunting, fishing and trapping, she was against the constitutional amendment. Tietze said that she did not want to see the state constitution amendment frequently.
She said that the bill would favor one group over the other in the process.
“We’d be choosing the folks who hunt, fish and trap, which is their right, that they are more important than those who believe in animal rights, the humane society, and any of those folks,” Tietze said.
She said the national groups that could come in are affiliated with local groups within the state. Tietze also veered in Democratic talking points regarding the state’s 2012 tax cuts and the impact on state revenue. She said that she opposed what she said was the use of user fees to fund the Wildlife Department rather than the state general fund. Tietze said she is concerned that the fees could be moved to the state general fund for other uses.
Todd disagreed with Tietze, noting that the department has historically been funded via user fees. He said the amendment would not have a change of policy, but rather would protect the department.
“Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is a fee funded agency,” Todd said. “It goes directly to agency and not the state general fund.”
Nineteen states have passed right to hunt and fish amendments to the state constitution, while an additional two – California and Rhode Island – have state constitutional amendments guaranteeing the right to fish. Vermont became the first state to include a right to hunt and fish amendment in 1777, with Texas voters approving a constitutional amendment last year.
According to an analysis from the National Conference of State Legislatures, 88 percent of Mississippi voters voted in favor of the amendment during a 2014 statewide referendum. NCSL noted that similar amendments are pending in Michigan, New Jersey and New York.
A review of the amendment language issued by the National Shooting Sports Foundation shows that the amendments around the country highlight the tradition of hunting and fishing in the respective state. The language is similar to points advanced by national groups advocating for the amendment.
“Though hunting, fishing and harvesting wildlife have long been an American heritage since before the first Europeans arrived in North America, only recently has the ‘right’ to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife come into question,” the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation wrote. “Anti-hunting organizations would lead the public to believe that hunting, fishing, and harvesting wildlife are only a privilege subject to social pressures and prevailing public sentiments, rather than an inherent right. In order to establish in perpetuity what has been assumed for centuries, several states have sought amendments to their state constitutions that give their citizens a right to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife and to continue a consumptive, yet responsible, use of natural resources.”
Lusker described the amendment as forward thinking for the state, which was echoed by Todd.
“There is not a right to hunt and fish in Kansas right now,” Todd said. “It is a privilege.”