JEFFERSON CITY – Representatives exchanged stories about their children and grandchildren's first hunting experiences while discussing two proposed joint resolutions that would introduce a constitutional amendment to protect Missourians' fishing and hunting rights.
The resolutions introduced by Rep. Ron Hicks, R-St. Peters, and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Frankford, would not impede the Missouri Department of Conservation from protecting wildlife. The proposed amendment would guarantee the ability for Missourians to hunt under the constitution. There are 17 other states that have a similar constitutional amendment.
Both representatives said the amendment would protect the $1 billion hunting industry from interest groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.
“They’re affecting a way of livelihood that has been there since the start of time,” Hicks said in the committee meeting.
Rep. John Wright, D-Rocheport, said he was supportive of the right to hunt and fish, but he felt this was an unnecessary change to the constitution since there have been no threats to those rights.
“When asked directly to provide one example against the rights to hunt and fish, neither of the sponsors could provide an example,” he said “That’s why it strikes me as a frivolous use of the legislature’s time.”
Wright said this was the equivalent of passing an amendment protecting the right to cheer for the St. Louis Cardinals because it’s something everyone supports, but isn’t under attack.
Rep. Ed Schieffer, D-Troy, said Missourians who still live off the land need these kinds of protections from animal activists, who he called “hyped-up vegans.”
“In rural Missouri, there are a lot of people that still need the food and income that our wildlife provides,” he said.
Aaron Jeffries, assistant director for the Missouri Department of Conservation, said he doesn't think the resolutions are necessary. He said the Conservation department isn't worried about outside groups attacking Missourians' rights to hunt.
“It’s almost non-existent,” he said. “When it has occurred, the courts have upheld the commission's constitutional authority to regulate hunting and trapping.”
Even though the department hasn’t lost a lawsuit yet, Hicks said he still thinks these resolutions are necessary.
“What’s to say we’re going to win them all?” Hicks said. “It only takes one lawsuit to open the door ... It could be our own government that could shut us down. Look at the firearms debate.”
Jefferies also said the resolutions don't protect the timber industry, worth about $7 billion, in Missouri. Hicks said he plans to add timber protection into later drafts of his resolution.
The two proposed resolutions have the same principle but differ in wording. In the committee meeting, Hicks said his resolution would give the Department of Conservation more protection, and Hansen said his resolution would protect individuals more.
Hicks said he doesn't oppose Hansen’s proposal, saying he would be happy if either resolution got to a public vote.