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Published March 04, 2011, 05:26 PM

Kentucky Voters Could Make Hunting a Constitutional Right

Lawmakers in Kentucky moved Friday to give hunting and fishing rights protection under the state constitution, hoping to head off a feared push by animal rights groups to ban the outdoor pastimes.

By: Roger Alford, Associated Press

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Lawmakers in Kentucky moved Friday to give hunting and fishing rights protection under the state constitution, hoping to head off a feared push by animal rights groups to ban the outdoor pastimes.

Legislation calling for an amendment to the state Constitution sailed through the General Assembly in the largely rural state where hunting and fishing remain popular.

State Rep. Tommy Turner, R-Somerset, said he expects Kentucky voters to overwhelmingly ratify the proposal when it goes on the ballot in November 2012.

"I think it's something we need to do," said Turner, co-chairman of the House Sportsmen's Caucus. "You just don't know what might happen in the future, because there's no question there are groups out there who would love to take away our right to hunt."

The House voted 94-1 for final passage of the measure on Friday. Only Louisville Rep. Jim Wayne, a Democrat, dared vote against the politically popular measure. Wayne, who serves an urban constituency, said he doesn't believe hunting and fishing need constitutional protection.

The measure now goes to Gov. Steve Beshear for one last stop before hitting the ballot.

"The governor himself enjoys hunting, and understands our state's proud traditions of hunting and fishing," Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said. "He will sign this legislation."

Not everyone shares the pro-hunting sentiments of Beshear and Kentucky lawmakers.

California veterinarian Elliot M. Katz, head of the anti-hunting group In Defense of Animals, called it sad that some people still consider it sporting to shoot animals for fun and hang their heads or hides in their homes.

"It's time we as a society get past that insensitivity," he said.

Kentucky is the latest in a long line of states that have passed or are considering right-to-hunt measures to head off feared hunting bans. Those with bans in place include Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.

The National Rifle Association is leading a nationwide push for such state-level constitutional amendments in a pre-emptive move just in case animal rights groups in the future are able to convince a majority of Americans that hunting is bad.

Animal rights groups have pressed for restrictions on hunting in several states, including Kentucky where they tried to stop bear season from opening two years ago and in Minnesota last year where they pushed to ban dove hunting. The right-to-hunt measures would ensure that hunting could never be outlawed without a statewide vote of the people.

The Missouri legislature is considering similar legislation this year.

"Hunting and fishing are cherished parts of America's rich heritage and these constitutional amendments provide solid protections for our children and grandchildren as we move toward a more urban environment with diminishing understanding of our great outdoors," said NRA spokesman Lacey Biles.

Biles said an amendment would protect Kentucky "from anti-hunting extremists for generations to come."

Turner said he expects the issue will result in huge numbers of rural hunters and fishermen voting in next year's general election. But he said he doesn't expect it will benefit one party over another.

"This will benefit both Democrats and Republicans, as long as they're pro-hunting," he said.

Biles said the NRA is glad the measure has bipartisan support.

"If we lose hunting and fishing in the future, then we lose our appreciation for the outdoors and destroy the great conservation movement that sportsmen and women have driven for more than a century," he said.

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The legislation is House Bill 1.

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