Rep. Leslie Combs: The case for the hunting constitutional amendment

During most legislative sessions, the House and Senate usually designate the lower bill numbers for their highest priorities. With that in mind, it is telling that the proposed constitutional amendment to strengthen hunting and fishing rights was set aside as House Bill 1 when I formally introduced it last year.

It eventually drew more than 60 cosponsors in the 100-member House and, not surprisingly, passed both chambers overwhelmingly.

To me, the need for this amendment is simple: It solidifies the will of the people in a way that cannot be achieved by legislatively enacted law alone. An amendment is the ideal way to cover all three branches of government at one time and local jurisdictions as well. Supporters want to make sure that this right remains consistently applied from Pikeville to Paducah, and not diminished by the action of a few, as we have seen in other states.

This amendment will also serve as another vehicle to further reaffirm basic gun and private-property rights as the province of the states, addressing a concern many hunters and landowners have had.

My goal is not to hammer mere tradition into our constitutional bedrock, but to give voters the chance to add hunting and fishing to the list of rights that only they can change. It is a proactive move that alleviates any possibility, short of a federal action, that these activities will be curtailed entirely. I believe our timeless values need the strongest protection available and to serve as a guide to the laws that follow.

If passed, this amendment will not change routine regulations that range from determining hunting seasons to who has to obtain a sporting permit and how much they should pay. It will ensure that hunting and fishing remain the preferred methods to keep wildlife populations in check.

If other states are a guide, this amendment should have no problem at the polls. Ninety percent of Tennessee's voters gave their support for the concept in 2010, for example, while the votes in Arkansas and South Carolina that year topped 80 percent.

All told, 13 states now have this type of amendment in their constitutions and Nebraska, Idaho and Wyoming will join Kentucky on Nov. 6 in trying to boost that number to 17. Although Vermont's was added in 1777, most have been approved since 1996. Not surprisingly, a wide array of hunting and fishing organizations are strong supporters of this amendment, including the National Rifle Association.

Here in Kentucky, hunting, fishing and other wildlife-related activities play a major role in our economy and in protecting hundreds of thousands of irreplaceable acres.

Altogether, they bring in about $3 billion a year and they support 34,000 jobs. According to the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, they contribute more than $200 million to state and local governments annually.

There are hundreds of thousands of sportsmen and women here in Kentucky, and many more come from other states. About one million hunting and fishing licenses sold here each year and the department's information center fields 100,000 calls annually. More than 100,000 deer have been harvested each year since 2000, and wild turkey season is extremely popular as well, with the numbers taken totaling in the tens of thousands.

Although the amendment was authorized in 2011, it had to wait until this year's ballot because amendments can only be voted on during even-year elections.

I hope you will join with me in getting this amendment adopted. It's not just good for those who hunt and fish; in ways large and small, it will benefit all of us.