Right to hunt and fish amendment resurfaces

Twenty-one other states have a similar constitutional provision, including all of the states that border North Carolina.

Posted Updated

Travis Fain
, WRAL statehouse reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — Voters would be asked to enshrine the right to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife in the North Carolina constitution under a measure that cleared the Senate Wednesday.

Senate Bill 677 wouldn't change state hunting regulations, its sponsor said, and the amendment language specifically says it's not intended to modify various provisions of state law, but legislative staff said similar amendments in other states have been cited in legal challenges.

Twenty-one other states have a similar constitutional provision, including all of the states that border North Carolina, according to supporters.

With Wednesday's 44-4 vote in the Senate, the measure heads to the House for further discussion. A similar proposal cleared the Senate two years ago but stalled in the House.

Spokespeople for the National Rifle Association and the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation said the amendment is needed because there have been challenges to some hunting methods and the hunting of certain animals in other states. Sportsmen's Foundation Coordinator John Culclasure pointed to two in particular: bear hunting in Maine and dove hunting in Michigan.

The amendment, Culclasure said, would be a pre-emptive block against such pushbacks here.

A number of Democrats questioned the need for the amendment, which would have to be approved by three-fifths of the legislature and a majority of voters to be added to the state constitution.

"There is no present threat," Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, said on the Senate floor. "We have really no more rights after it's passed."

Sen. Jeff Jackson, D-Mecklenburg, asked about the potential for legal challenges against existing state hunting rules if it passes.

"Don’t you see this as a litigation bonanza?" Jackson asked.

Sponsoring Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Pamlico, said he did not.

"I search my mind as to what actually is going to change," he said.

Legislative staff said other states have seen challenges on commercial fishing regulation and Sunday hunting laws, although appeals courts have generally upheld those rules. Constitutional language differs from state to state, making predictions difficult, staff said.

If approved, voters would be asked to vote for or against a "Constitutional amendment protecting the right of the people to hunt, fish, and harvest wildlife." Supporters have said the question polls very well, and there is a theory that at least some of the intention behind the amendment is to draw people to the polls this November – an off-year election that will decide control of the General Assembly.

This is the language that would be added to the state constitution if the amendment is adopted: "The right of the people to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife is a valued part of the state's heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good. The people have a right, including the right to use traditional methods, to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife, subject only to laws enacted by the General Assembly and rules adopted pursuant to authority granted by the General Assembly to (i) promote wildlife conservation and management and (ii) preserve the future of hunting and fishing. This section shall not be construed to modify any provision of law relating to public safety, trespass, property rights, eminent domain or the regulation of commercial activities."


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