By ANN ALLEN
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — The right to hunt, fish and farm – a right many Hoosiers consider God-given – may soon be guaranteed by the state constitution if an amendment sponsored by state Sen. Brent Steele (R-Bedford) is adopted by the legislature.
Steele said he is sponsoring the amendment in reaction to animal-rights activists who he believes are trying to interfere with legal hunting and livestock production.
He told the Indianapolis Star he sponsored the amendment to protect the state’s $8 billion annually in agricultural projects and more than 950,000 residents who hunt or fish each year.
“Fishing and hunting and farming are all part of our heritage in Indiana, and are all under attack,” he said.
His resolution defines the Right to Hunt, Fish and Farm: “The people have a right to hunt, fish, harvest game or engage in the agricultural or commercial production of meat, fish, poultry or dairy products, which is a valued part of our heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good, subject only to laws prescribed by the General Assembly and rules prescribed by virtue of the authority of the General assembly.
“Hunting and fishing shall be the preferred means of managing and controlling wildlife. This section shall not be construed to limit the application of any provision of law relating to trespass or property rights.”
The Indiana Senate Agriculture Committee voted 7-0 to send the proposal to the full Senate. Both it and House approved the proposed amendment during the 2011 session. If the same version is approved this year, it will go before voters for a 2014 statewide referendum.
The proposed amendment is drawing mixed reviews. Kim Ferraro, agriculture policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, expressed concern the amendment would give elevated legal protections to one industry above other.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane (D-Anderson) was quoted as saying that adding hunting and farming protections to the state constitution could end up impeding the ability of state and local governments to impose zoning restrictions and regulate drainage.
Bob Kraft, a lobbyist for Indiana Farm Bureau, demurred. “The proposed amendment is insurance for the state’s farmers,” he said.
Bill Leininger, a Kosciusko County farmer and Indiana State Fair board member, was blunt in his support. “Animal rights groups forcing regulations don’t understand farming,” he said.
If the amendment passes, Indiana will join 17 other states that have “right to hunt and fish” language in their constitutions. Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska and Wyoming added the language last year.