Senators gave second-round approval Tuesday to a proposed constitutional amendment that would add Nebraska to a list of 13 states that make hunting, fishing and trapping a right.
Omaha Sen. Pete Pirsch, sponsor of the measure (LR40CA), has said there is a "clear and realistic" reason for concern that some groups want to stop all hunting, fishing and trapping.
"We've seen restrictions that have been imposed in other states," Pirsch said. "This would protect ... against encroachment upon that right."
The measure advanced on a voice vote and faces one more round of consideration. If it passes, voters would be asked to approve it.
Protection of hunting, fishing and trapping was introduced in the Legislature in 2004 by then-Sen. Ed Schrock of Elm Creek in response to what he said was a threat to such activities by animal rights groups such as the Humane Society of the United States. The measure carried over to the 2005 session, where it was filibustered by then-Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, who filed more than 30 amendments on the bill. It eventually died.
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO the Humane Society of the United States, said his organization is not trying to erode hunting and fishing rights
"There's no organization threatening hunting or fishing, but there are pandering politicians who want to score points with interest groups, and that's what is at work here," he said.
Sens. Amanda McGill of Lincoln and Brenda Council of Omaha said Pirsch's measure is not necessary because there is no threat to hunting and fishing or trapping in Nebraska. During first-round debate, McGill threw an amendment onto the bill to add a list of other "rights" Nebraskans should have, including the rights to swim, farm, ranch, drive, boat, nap, camp and watch Husker football.
Council said Pirsch's measure would clutter the Constitution.
"We're going to use our Constitution as a platform for this public interest debate between the Humane Society of the United States" and the National Rifle Association, she said. "Our Constitution is not the place for that debate to occur. It is not the place for these issues and battle lines to be drawn. Our Constitution is to protect the citizens of the state of Nebraska ... against real threats to their lives and livelihoods."
Pirsch said Nebraska's 280,000 sportsmen and women spend $480 million annually to hunt and fish, support 8,500 jobs and $238 million in salaries and pay $54 million in state and local taxes. Those outdoor sports have a $746 million ripple effect on the economy, he said.
Thirteen states guarantee the right to hunt and fish in their constitutions, with Vermont's language dating back to 1777, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. However, the rest of these constitutional provisions -- in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin --- have passed since 1996. California and Rhode Island have language in their constitutions guaranteeing the right to fish, but not to hunt, according to the national conference.
Last year, the legislatures in Kentucky and Wyoming passed measures that will ask voters this year whether to add the right to hunt and fish to the state constitution.
In 2010, Arizona became the first state to reject such an initiative.