Voter approval percentage for wildlife management laws may undergo change

Saturday, April 15, 2006

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Some lawmakers want to make it harder for voters to change state hunting, fishing and forestry laws.

The House gave first-round approval by a 95-59 vote Wednesday to a proposed constitutional amendment that would require approval from two-thirds of voters on ballot items involving wildlife management. Current law requires only a simple majority vote to enact most ballot measures.

The proposed amendment specifically exempts adding or changing sales taxes from the two-thirds requirement.

Rep. Mike Dethrow said protections are needed to prevent environmental groups from other states, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, from coming to Missouri and trying to limit hunting and fishing rights.

"The voters decided some 70 years ago that they wanted the Department of Conservation to manage those resources," said Dethrow, R-Alton. "They decided it was a better way to do it than allow PETA or some other group to come in and start banning trapping, bow hunting or some other thing just because of their beliefs."

Bethany Boyles, a wildlife biologist with PETA, said the proposal is "a solution in search of a problem."

"Most of what we do to encourage people not to hunt or trap is educational, not legislative," she said.

Rep. Barbara Fraser said making it harder to change wildlife management laws is a two-way street laden with potential unforeseen consequences. Making it harder for citizens to overturn wildlife management decisions could make state employees far more powerful, she said.

"The Conservation Department could and would introduce cougars into the Ozark Mountains area and they could introduce elk, and there's not a thing people could do about it," Fraser, D-St. Louis, said.

Conservation commissioners in 2000 and 2001 declined to begin restoring wild elk to Missouri, partly because of concerns by livestock producers and hunters that they could spread disease.

The House has passed similar proposed constitutional amendments, most recently in 2004, but they have failed to clear the Senate. The House must give final approval to this year's measure before sending it to the Senate. If both bodies approve the proposed constitutional amendment, it would go before voters in November, unless the governor sets a special election before that.

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