LINCOLN — State Sen. Pete Pirsch of Omaha believes hunters, fishers and trappers are in danger of winding up on the endangered species list in Nebraska.
That's why he argued Tuesday for a constitutional amendment to protect “the right to hunt, to fish and to harvest wildlife.”
“If a right is fundamental and important, then we should move to protect it,” Pirsch said in legislative debate. “The whole idea is to preserve and protect what exists now.”
Legislative Resolution 40CA is intended to provide that protection from the threat he and other senators say is posed by national animal right organizations.
Pirsch, who introduced the measure, pointed to the experiences of states like California, where mountain lion hunting has been banned, or New Jersey, where the target was bear hunting, or Michigan, where activists stopped dove hunting.
But other lawmakers scoffed at the idea that any group could make much headway with a push to restrict hunting and fishing in Nebraska.
They pointed to the lengthy debate two years ago about restricting trapping in roadside ditches and to the quick demise of bills proposed in recent years promoting the welfare of dogs and cats.
Sen. Steve Lathrop of Omaha said the proposed amendment is unneeded and doesn't belong in the Nebraska Constitution.
“It is feel-good legislation,” he said. “When we use the constitution to make a political point or to satisfy a constituency, we're not doing our job.”
He and others warned that the measure, if approved by voters, could lead to litigation.
Under LR 40CA, the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife would be subject to laws, rules and regulations.
But the amendment would only allow certain types of restrictions — those that promote wildlife conservation and management or preserve the future of hunting and fishing.
Pirsch said the amendment would not jeopardize current regulations on hunting, fishing and trapping, including the state's ban on hunting sandhill cranes.
But he acknowledged it would be up to the courts to decide whether future laws and rules comply with the amendment.
Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha said the proposal raises several questions, such as how a provision making hunting and fishing the “preferred means” of managing and controlling wildlife would apply to a proposal to control prairie dogs.
Harr also argued that, if lawmakers put the amendment on the ballot, it would give animal rights groups a bigger platform to spread their message.
“We're opening the door and inviting them into the state,” said Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton.
Pirsch said he would not name the animal rights group that poses the greatest risk to hunting and fishing.
Others said it is the Humane Society of the United States. Based in Washington, D.C., the group describes itself as “the nation's largest and most effective animal protection organization.”
The Humane Society recently hired a state director for Nebraska. But Don Wesely, a lobbyist who represented the group last year in the Legislature, dropped the contract this year.
The organization became part of the discussion on another legislative proposal last week, one that backers hope could open the door for horse slaughtering in Nebraska.
Constitutional amendments to protect hunting, fishing and trapping have been introduced in previous years. In 2005, a proposal won first-round approval but was blocked by then-Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha.
Sen. Amanda McGill of Lincoln said she was channeling her “inner Ernie” with an amendment to LR 40CA.
Her amendment would add to the list of protected activities the right “to swim, to farm, to ranch, to drive, to boat, to tube, to golf, to nap, to parent, to learn, to camp, to pioneer, to innovate and to watch Husker football.”
The Legislature adjourned before voting on either McGill's amendment or LR 40CA.
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