Kansas House passes amendment protecting hunting, fishing rights

Joe Voth, of Barrington, throws a net as Casey McCall, Lawrence, and Dennis Marquis, of Leavenworth, both watch as they spend the afternoon fishing together, Monday, Oct. 27, 2014, at Clinton Lake.

? The Kansas House on Monday passed a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish a public right to hunt, fish and trap wildlife, something that could make it more difficult for the state to regulate those activities or take actions to protect threatened and endangered species.

The House vote, 117-7, sends the measure to the Senate.

House Concurrent Resolution 5008 advanced on a voice vote, so it was difficult to tell whether it has the two-thirds majority, or 84 votes, needed for passage. If approved by both chambers, it would appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. A final vote is expected Tuesday.

“There is not a right to hunt, fish and trap in Kansas right now. It’s a privilege,” said Rep. James Todd, R-Overland Park. “This would create the right.”

The amendment would add new language to the Bill of Rights in the Kansas Constitution, specifying that people have the right to hunt, fish and trap “by the use of traditional methods, subject to reasonable laws and regulations.”

It also states that hunting and fishing “shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife.” But it states that nothing in the amendment would interfere with laws relating to private property rights, trespassing or water resources.

Todd noted it would change the legal standard by which state wildlife laws and regulations are judged. Instead of using the “rational basis” standard, under which the state only has to show it acted reasonably by limiting hunting and fishing rights, the amendment would subject those laws and regulations to “strict scrutiny.”

That generally means the state would have a burden to show a compelling interest in enacting a law or regulation and that the government action were narrowly tailored to achieve that purpose.

Rep. Annie Tietze, of Topeka, the ranking Democrat on the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, which recommended the amendment, said that would tip the scales of justice in favor of one group over another in disputes about conservation or protecting threatened or endangered species.

“We would be choosing that the folks who hunt, fish and trap — which is their right, and continues to be their right if we don’t do this — are more important than those who believe in, say, animal rights, or the Humane Society (or) the Sierra Club,” Tietze said.

Officials from the Kansas Rifle Association testified in favor of the amendment during committee hearings, arguing that hunting and fishing rights are under threat in Kansas and elsewhere from a variety of sources, including animal rights groups as well as loss of habitat.

Currently, 19 states have constitutional protections for hunting and fishing rights, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Vermont has had the provision in its constitution since 1777; the rest have all been added since 1996.