Wednesday, July 9, 2014 1:00 AM
The Constitution is on the ballot in November. Well, sort of. And this isn't campaign hyperbole. Mississippians will vote on an amendment to the Mississippi Constitution when they go to the polls on November 4.
In recent years, we've been familiar with constitutional amendments through the initiative process. Five measures by citizen petition have made it to the ballot: two term limit initiatives and the Personhood initiative failed; an eminent domain and a voter-ID initiative were both approved.
But constitutional amendments can also be advanced by the state legislature and put on the statewide ballot. Six of these measures have been put on the ballot since 1994 involving issues like providing for the creation of a statewide grand jury, prohibiting courts from ordering tax increases; providing denial of bail in capital offenses for previously convicted capital criminals; geographically balancing the appointments to the Board of the Institutions of Higher Learning; and defining marriage in Mississippi. All passed overwhelmingly. A 2002 measure to increase the terms of circuit and chancery judges for four years to six years failed with 61.3 percent opposing.
In 2012, Representative Lester "Bubba" Carpenter (R-Burnsville) introduced a resolution to amend the Mississippi Constitution to add a section stating, "The people have the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods, subject only to laws and regulations that promote wildlife conservation and management and that preserve the future of hunting and fishing, as the Legislature may prescribe by general law. Public hunting and fishing shall be a preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section may not be construed to modify an provision of law relating to trespass, property rights, the regulation of commercial activities or the maintenance of levees pursuant to Article 11."
The measure passed the House of Representatives 104-14 and was unanimously approved by the Senate. It will be on the ballot this Fall.
This was Carpenter's second attempt at putting this amendment on the ballot. In 2011 his measure passed the House but failed in the Senate. Prior to that, it had been attempted at least a half a dozen times in the previous fifteen years by five different authors (Charlie Capps in 1997; Billy Thames in 2003; Jim Ellington in 2004; Sid Bondurant in 2005 and 2006; Sam Mims in 2010).
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, seventeen states currently guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions; all but one have passed since 1996 as amendments while "Vermont's language dates back to 1777." Additionally, two states (California and Rhode Island) constitutionally protect fishing but not hunting and a provision in the Alaska Constitution has been construed to protect both activities through case law. In additional to Mississippi, voters in Alabama will also be considering a similar amendment to their constitution.
Many states add "trapping" along with hunting and fishing. Mississippi's proposal does not use the word "trapping" but the provision "harvest wildlife, including by the use of traditional methods" could include trapping.
The National Rifle Association has been a leader in the national push for state amendments protecting the right to hunt and fish. When Indiana was considering this amendment, a spokesperson for the NRA said, "Groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and The Humane Society were going after these laws [hunting and fishing], sort of in an incremental way."
"We are the Humane Society of the United States, so we do not support hunting," said Nicole Paquette, the organization's vice president of wildlife protection, "But as a practical matter, we don't work to stop hunting and fishing." She said in an article by Stateline that they have worked to end the use of bait in bear hunting, the use of dogs in hunting and enclosed captive hunting. The same Stateline report quoted a spokesperson for PETA who opposed Indiana's amendment who said, "There is no reason in this day and age to be out in the woods hunting animals for sport."
A proponent of the amendment in Tennessee noted PETA sought to end the University of Tennessee's bass fishing team. PETA wrote to the University Chancellor, "Fishing is a blood sport that causes immense physical and psychological suffering" and urged the University to end its championship team.
The amendment in Mississippi appears to seek to prevent such incremental and targeted efforts by groups like PETA and the Humane Society from interfering with Mississippi outdoor sportsmen. The NRA says Mississippi's amendment "would provide meaningful protections against the anti-hunting extremists who seek to ban all hunting in America." The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries & Parks testified in support of the measure.
It is doubtful opponents will spend much money or time seeking to defeat the amendment this November. Mississippi voters will likely pass the amendment overwhelmingly.
Brian Perry is a columnist for the Madison County Journal and a partner with Capstone Public Affairs, LLC. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or @CapstonePerry on Twitter.