FRANKFORT — A House panel overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment Tuesday that would protect hunting and fishing rights.
House Speaker Greg Stumbo said he thinks the full House will sign off on the measure. Its fate in the Senate is uncertain. If approved by the General Assembly, voters would decide the issue at the ballot box in 2012.
With no discussion, the House Elections, Constitutional Amendments and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee approved House Bill 1, which would create a right to hunt and fish in Kentucky. All members voted for it except Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, who cast a "pass" vote.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, acknowledged that some people question the importance of the amendment but said it makes hunting and fishing a right instead of a privilege.
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Combs and Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, told reporters that hunting and fishing are important to Kentucky's economic development and tourism.
"The stronger we can make them, the better off we are as a state," Combs said.
She also said the potential exists for some groups to try to ban hunting.
Combs said the legislation is a top priority of the National Rifle Association, and 15 other states have adopted it.
"It's important because it guarantees that the management of our fisheries, resources and wildlife herds will be done by public hunting," Stumbo said.
The Senate already has approved and sent to the House a change to the Kentucky Constitution dubbed the "21st Century Bill of Rights" that would protect the state from federal intrusion on issues including coal mining, posting of the Ten Commandments, abortion, expanded gambling and guns. It also contains a provision to protect hunting and fishing.
Stumbo said the Senate amendment has "a constitutional problem" because it contains more than one issue. "You can't put 18 amendments on one bill," he said.