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Miss.: Hunting 'rights' bill shot down

5/31/2006

State Rep. Sidney Bondurant says he didn't have a camouflaged political agenda when he tried to make hunting and fishing a constitutional right in Mississippi.

He just wanted to protect the pastimes many people enjoy in the great outdoors.

Some other lawmakers saw the potential for gamesmanship — namely, trying to scare Bubbas (and Bubbettes) into going to the polls in droves to vote on a constitutional amendment.

An overwhelming turnout could influence the outcome of other races on the ballot, congressional contests in the federal elections of 2006 or everything from governor to county supervisor in the state general elections of 2007.

Think the scenario is farfetched? Consider this: Many politicos believe that anti-gay marriage amendments on ballots in Mississippi and 10 other states last fall helped energize evangelical voters and boost turnout for the Republican presidential ticket.

"When you put emotional issues on ballots, especially constitutional amendments, it pulls out the base of conservative voters," said Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg.

Bondurant's hunting and fishing amendment has been shot down this session, but some legislators expect it could surface again in the next few years. Flaggs says he wouldn't be surprised to see Republicans push a constitutional amendment for another hot-button issue - voter ID.

Bondurant, D-Grenada, is a physician who's serving his first term in the Legislature. He says he doesn't hunt often, but, "I've got a lot of friends, their whole social life revolves around hunting and fishing."

Bondurant says he filed the amendment after hearing that animal-rights groups had filed lawsuits to try to block hunting and fishing in other states.

He couldn't name the states. An Internet search by The Associated Press turned up a March 2003 news release by a U.S. and Canadian hunters' group, Delta Waterfowl, that decried a lawsuit by The Fund for Animals. The suit was challenging attempts by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to expand hunting on 390 waterfowl refuges.

Some Mississippi House members supported Bondurant's proposal.

"Why don't we do some preventative maintenance?" asked Rep. Leonard Bentz, R-Biloxi.

Others legislators worried that private property rights would be hurt: How could game wardens make charges stick against a deer headlighter who claims he's just exercising a constitutional right to hunt?

Then there was the question of the effect on the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks budget. Would it be unconstitutional for the state to charge for hunting and fishing licenses? Poll taxes, after all, are outlawed.

"Let's not tamper with the constitution of the state of Mississippi in order to deal with a problem that doesn't even exist," Rep. Erik Fleming, D-Clinton, implored his House colleagues.