Voters are asked to vote yes or no to amend Article 11, Section 13 of the Constitution of the state of Tennessee by adding the following sentences:
"The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law. The recognition of this right does not abrogate any private or public property rights, nor does it limit the state's power to regulate commercial activity. Traditional manners and means may be used to take non-threatened species."
So what does this mean? Technically, Tennesseans do not have the constitutional right to hunt or fish. However, they are afforded the privilege by purchasing permits and licenses and must follow state guidelines, which they would still have to do if the legislation passes.
Section 13 of the constitution currently states:
"The General Assembly shall have power to enact laws for the protection and preservation of game and fish, within the state, and such laws may be enacted for and applied and enforced in particular counties or geographical districts, designated by the General Assembly."
The Tennessee Wildlife Federation has been working since 2004 to get the initiative placed on the ballot and has gained support from several organizations such as the NRA, the Farm Bureau and Ducks Unlimited.
The website www.huntandfish.com, paid for by the Tennessee Wildlife Heritage Fund, states the constitutional amendment is necessary because hunting and fishing could be banned by a vote in the General Assembly or by a misguided lawsuit.
The website states:
"This amendment to the state constitution will provide a strong clarification of an individual's right to hunt and fish in Tennessee, should these traditions be challenged in a court of law. The added level of protection would be significant, as it does not currently exist."
Rep. Judy Barker is a co-sponsor of the measure that got the amendment placed on the ballot. She stated hunting and fishing are activities her family have enjoyed for generations and they are important to the economy.
"When you think of all of the motel rooms, boat and ATV dealers, guides, bait shops and restaurants that depend on hunters and fishermen, you see that it's big business, not only in West Tennessee but across the state," said Barker in a press release. "Without even counting the private dollars spent on leasing land by sportsmen, the annual economic impact of hunting and fishing in Tennessee exceeds $2.4 billion."
She added that the revenues generated by the purchase of hunting and fishing licenses, along with taxes on related equipment, fund the TWRA almost exclusively.
"These dollars fund the management of our wildlife and fisheries resources, and they contribute greatly to the open space we all enjoy for not only hunting and fishing, but for hiking, camping, bird-watching and more," said Barker.
One group, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has voiced opposition to the amendment, which is similar to other legislation being introduced in Arizona, Arkansas and South Carolina.
"All of these proposed amendments are frivolous," said Ashley Byrne, PETA senior campaigner. "They also threaten to really clog up the state government and waste time and money. They would open up a flood of political interest groups wanting to make a political statement."
Barker stated certain groups have made it clear they are willing to spend tens of millions of dollars to achieve their goal of an outright ban on hunting and fishing, but Byrne said there is no initiative or campaign by PETA to do so in Tennessee.
"What we've seen is that the number of people who have an interest in hunting has dropped considerably, because the younger generation prefers to enjoy nature in ways that are non-violent and non-consumptive, so our efforts are more along the lines of education," said Byrne. "When the younger generation learns how destructive and violent hunting is, they want nothing to do with it. Then an amendment is not going to change it one way or another."
Byrne also said the legislation could have negative effects if passed.
"I think that it is also important to realize that these amendments can be problematic in a host of other ways, such as to potentially allow felons to obtain firearms because they might say they have a right to hunt," said Byrne.
After more than a week of early voting, Dyer County Election Administrator Jane Heathcott said only one person has asked about the amendment. She said poll workers would receive training on Oct. 29 to be able to answer questions about the amendment, should they arise on Election Day.