Four Constitutional amendments were proposed by legislators and sporting groups at the 2015 session. Two would have prohibited citizen ballot initiatives on fisheries and wildlife issues. The other two sought to guarantee the right to hunt and fish. The latter, by my research, were not worded correctly to actually achieve the sponsors’ goals.
Although the bills drew strong support from sporting groups and big turnouts at public hearings, the truth is that sportsmen didn’t have nearly enough support in either the House or Senate to win the necessary 2/3 vote to get these Constitutional amendments on the ballot. So most of the lobbyists for sporting groups quietly spread the word that the bills could be killed.
The two Constitutional amendments that would have banned wildlife ballot measures were killed by unanimous votes in the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. The two Constitutional amendments to establish the right to hunt were killed by nearly unanimous votes in the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.
The legislature supported a resolve last year that gives the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee an opportunity, in the 2016 legislative session, to create, “a bill concerning the protection of Maine’s outdoor heritage.”
This very general language may give the committee the authority to create legislation on the issues outlined above, including Constitutional amendments. But a lot of work will have to be done before there is any chance of getting one of these amendments through the legislature and onto the ballot. And of course, sportsmen will then be faced with the difficult and very expensive task of raising enough money to convince the public that hunting should be protected in the Constitution.
The IFW Committee began its discussion on this resolve on Tuesday. Dave Trahan, Executive Director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, asked the committee to consider a new Constitutional amendment to protect hunting. He said he’s researching amendments in other states, including the language used in those amendments. “I’m not afraid to take this to the Maine people,” he told me.
That’s a major gamble, but one Trahan seems willing to take on, with or without the support of other groups representing sportsmen.
The IFW Committee is already divided on the issue, although a majority agreed to pursue a Constitutional amendment, so this will now be a major issue this session, and I will continue to report on it.