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Voters to Decide if ‘Personal Right’ to Hunt & Fish is Reasonable

The term “reasonable” doesn’t appear in the U.S. or Tennessee Constitutions, except for proscriptions against the government carrying out “unreasonable searches and seizures.”

But the Tennessee Wildlife Federation — with the endorsement of all but three members of the state Legislature — wants to add that word, and 59 or so others, in the form of a constitutional amendment that would place hunting and fishing on the list of legally protected rights enjoyed by Tennesseans.

The amendment, which if passed would be added to the section of the Tennessee Constitution that grants state government the authority “to enact laws for the protection and preservation of game and fish,” reads as follows:

“The citizens of this state shall have the personal right to hunt and fish, subject to reasonable regulations and restrictions prescribed by law. The recognition of this right does not abrogate any private or public property rights, nor does it limit the state’s power to regulate commercial activity. Traditional manners and means may be used to take non-threatened species.”

The process of getting the measure before voters has been years in the making. Conceived in 2004, the language has twice been approved by the General Assembly — most recently, this past legislative session — and must now attract “yes” votes from a majority of voters participating in the upcoming gubernatorial election.

Critics of the amendment suggest that a change to the Constitution is unnecessary and excessive.

Argues the state’s largest metropolitan newspaper, “a simple resolution would have sufficed to send the message that hunting and fishing is here to stay.” Furthermore, the use of the word “reasonable” is “vague and open to interpretation.” It could, for example, embolden litigious malcontents to challenge licensing and fee requirements placed upon sportsmen by the Tennessee Department of Fish and Wildlife and thus jeopardize “a crucial revenue source,” the Tennessean editorial board worries.

Those concerns, however, don’t appear to be shared by state government wildlife managers.

Nat Johnson, TWRA assistant executive director of staff operations, said the term “reasonable” sounds reasonable enough to officials and attorneys with the department, although he noted that the agency cannot by law take a formal stance of support or opposition on the measure.

Officials do, however, offer that they in no way see the language of the amendment as hindering “the responsibilities of the agency to set manner and means” for taking fish and wildlife, said Johnson, who also serves as TWRA’s legislative liaison to the Tennessee General Assembly.

“Legal staff has looked at this, and they have not seen it become an issue in any other states,” he said. “They haven’t seen that it provided any avenues for people to challenge a state’s ability to regulate and set reasonable rules and regulations.”

More than a dozen other states have guarantees of hunters’ rights written into their constitutions, and others are considering measures.

Tennessee Wildlife Federation CEO Michael Butler told TNReport his group consulted closely with state wildlife officials, constitutional attorneys and the chief legislative sponsors of the amendment, Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, and Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, to ensure that the amendment language enumerates the desired right without undermining state government fish and wildlife management authority.

“Most people already think they have a right to hunt and fish. So for most people, this amendment is just confirming what they already thought,” Butler said. “They can’t really imagine not being able to do it.”

However, the whole point of the amendment, he said, is to add a layer of legal defense against political activists and pressure groups that believe hunting and fishing not only aren’t “rights,” but probably shouldn’t even be tolerated by government.

Constitutionally speaking, “all it would take now to get rid of a hunting or fishing season is a vote by the Legislature,” Butler said.

Johnson confirmed that the department advised the wildlife federation on the amendment “almost since its inception.”

“We worked to achieve a comfort level that we thought everybody could live with,” he said.

Vanderbilt constitutional law professor James Blumstein noted that although the term “reasonable” isn’t one you’ll find in constitutional language, it “permeates our law.”

While a subjective interpretation might at times be “fairly debatable,” Blumstein said, judges generally approach it from the standpoint of asking if government has “a rational basis for doing something, and that it meets a reasonableness test.”

“There will be some deference to the regulation, but the regulations have to be reasonable,” he said. In situations where hunting rights conflict with public safety, private property or species management goals, Blumstein said he believes the amendment leaves the government “ample authority to regulate.”

“But what the government cannot do is to simply say we’re against hunting, on the grounds of policy, or that we think that is immoral or that it’s inappropriate in some way, and just have a flat-out ban,” Blumstein said. “Most rights in the Constitution are not absolute rights, and this is recognizing that the right to hunt may exist, but it is not absolute.”

Legislature Says Criminals Must Pay Full Restitution for Voting-Rights Restoration

A proposed law to require that felons pay all their fines and court costs before getting their voting rights restored is headed to the governor’s desk.

The measure breezed through the Senate Wednesday, a stark contrast to the gale-force debate that howled up in the House last week.

The bill, SB 440/HB 09690, was sponsored by Rep. Joe McCord and Sen. Doug Overbey, both Maryville Republicans.

In the House, McCord and the bill were accused of aiming to disenfranchise voters who traditionally lean Democrat, and for placing a higher political premium on revenue collections than civil rights and “equal justice.”

“I agree that we should have restitution, but what I don’t agree with is when your income or lack thereof causes inequity in our system, and that’s exactly what this does,” said Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis. “This is not equal justice. We are talking about people who have paid their debt (through incarceration), and now we are going to make a decision based on their ability to vote on how much money they have.”

Added Rep. Brenda Gilmore, D-Nashville, “Basically we’re saying if you’ve got the money, and you can pay, you can have your rights restored, but if you don’t have the money…you cannot.”

Rep. Mike Stewart, a Nashville Democrat, wondered if the bill was part of “an overall Republican Party effort to disenfranchise people,” citing similar bills being offered in Washington and other states.

Supporters of the measure countered that critics seemed more concerned with getting ex-cons in ballot booths than with ensuring that criminals are made to repay their victims and reimburse taxpayers for the full costs of their misdeeds.

The issues in the bill have “nothing to do with whether you’re rich or poor,” said McCord. He likened it to a bill passed a few years ago that requires a person to be caught up on child support.

“It’s (about) a convicted felon and failure to pay court costs,” he said.

State and Local Government Committee chairman Curry Todd was among those who expressed agitation with the arguments put forward by opponents of the bill.

“Why don’t we let the cops give out a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card to everybody who makes under a certain income?” asked the Collierville Republican. “Do we not have any sympathy for the victims out there? We’re one of the top states in the nation in violent crimes. Why should (felons’ rights) be restored? I’m tired of everybody being so damn sympathetic to the criminals.”

House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol later added that as a result of felons not paying fines and court costs, “The victims and the taxpayers are paying those court costs, so the victims are being victimized twice.”

After nearly 50 minutes of debate that included members of both sides of the aisle being ruled “out of order,” House Speaker Kent Williams asked the members to wrap up the debate.

“I don’t what more can be said about this,” he said.

It passed on a vote of 69-23.

The bill had passed the House May 17 on a vote of 72-18, but McCord had to bring it up for another vote last week because the original bill as passed incorrectly gave the Board of Probation and Parole the ability to declare a person indigent rather than the courts.

The Senate unanimously agreed to the amendment on Wednesday.

Guns-in-Bars Bill Clears Senate

Press Release from Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson, April 29, 2010:

Bill allows permit holders to carry weapons in establishments that serve alcohol

NASHVILLE – The State Senate passed a bill Thursday 23-9 sponsored by Sen. Doug Jackson (D-Dickson) to allow handgun carry permit holders to take their weapons into establishments that serve alcohol.

“This version of the legislation will provide law-abiding citizens the opportunity to responsibly and legally exercise their Second Amendment rights while allowing business owners to run their establishments as they like,” Jackson said.

The bill (SB3012) allows handgun carry permit holders to legally take their weapons into establishments where alcohol is served. The Senate version passed Thursday would make illegal the consumption of alcohol while carrying a firearm, and allows business owners to ban guns completely from their premises by posting clear, specific public notice.

The bill creates a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum $2,500 fine and/or up to a year in jail, if a person is found to be consuming alcohol while in possession of a handgun. An amendment sponsored by Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) would revoke a permit holder’s permit for three years if he or she were found to be intoxicated while in possession of a handgun.

Possession of a handgun in an establishment that bans guns would result in a $500 fine.

“This bill will lower the barrier to law-abiding citizens to carry their firearms during the course of a normal day, and will give them an opportunity to defend themselves if necessary,” Jackson said. “The record of safety and responsibility among millions of handgun carry permit holders across the country is simply undeniable. Law-abiding citizens should not be disarmed. The only people who like that idea are criminals.”

The House version of the bill is expected to reach a floor vote soon.

Constitutional Amendment Protecting Right to Hunt & Fish Passes Senate

Press release from Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus, Jan. 28, 2010:

Sen. Jackson’s legislation on track to go to voters this fall

NASHVILLE — State constitutional protection of Tennesseans’ right to hunt and fish passed unanimously in the Senate Thursday and is on track to go to voters this fall, thanks to the efforts of Sen. Doug Jackson, D-Dickson.

“This is an important day not just for the thousands of sportsmen in Tennessee, but for anyone who supports the protection and conservation of our natural resources,” Sen. Jackson said.

Sportsmen spend more than $1.3 billion annually on hunting- and fishing-related expenses in Tennessee, according to 2006 U.S. Census Bureau data. Many of those dollars support the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which protects endangered species and natural areas throughout the state.

Those funds directly preserve jobs and opportunities for families and small businesses, Sen. Jackson said.

The constitutional amendment sponsored by Sen. Jackson passed 31-0 after its third and final reading Thursday. Pending House approval, the amendment will go to the ballot this November, where it will require a simple majority of the voters who cast a vote in the governor’s race.

The amendment provides for the personal right to hunt and fish within state laws and property rights. It allows for hunting and fishing of non-threatened species through traditional means, “consistent with the state’s duty to honor this heritage and its duty to conserve and protect game and fish.”

“All of Tennessee benefits when a parent takes a child hunting and fishing, as opposed to taking a child to a shopping mall,” Sen. Jackson said. “The tradition of hunting and fishing is worth defending.”

The text of the amendment can be found at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/106/Bill/SJR0030.pdf.

NRA: Restaurant Gun-Carry Ruling A Setback for Tennessee

This press release was issued by the National Rifle Association on Nov. 23, 2009:

Fairfax, Va. – Chancellor Claudia Bonnyman of the Chancery Court for Davidson County, Tennessee ruled last week that Tennessee’s restaurant carry law is unconstitutionally vague because of a perceived ambiguity over the state’s definition of restaurants. This law gave right-to-carry permit holders the chance to defend themselves from criminal attack while in a restaurant.

“This ruling is a setback for Tennessee’s law-abiding concealed carry permit holders,” said Chris W. Cox, NRA chief lobbyist. “We strongly urge Attorney General Robert Cooper to defend the Tennessee statute and appeal this unwise ruling.”

HB 962, Tennessee’s Restaurant Carry legislation, passed both the House and Senate with broad bipartisan support, but Governor Phil Bredesen vetoed the bill on May 28, disappointing more than 200,000 right-to-carry permit holders in the state. While an override of the veto only needed a simple majority vote to pass, it cleared both chambers with overwhelming, bi-partisan support. This law went into effect in July of this year after the Tennessee House and Senate successfully overrode Gov. Bredesen’s veto of HB 962. Tennessee joined 35 other states which recognize the right to carry in restaurants that serve alcohol when it enacted this legislation into law.

This law is crucial because crimes do occur in restaurants. On April 2, 2009, Benjamin Felix Goeser was gunned down at Jonny’s Sports Bar on Nolensville Road in Nashville. His wife, Nicole Goeser, has a right-to-carry permit, but she had to keep her gun locked in the car because of Tennessee law. Mrs. Goeser actively lobbied for the passage of this measure.

“Right-to-carry permit holders in Tennessee need to be aware that the chancery court’s regrettable and incorrect decision effectively suspends the law the legislature enacted and that they should not carry in restaurants until this litigation is resolved on appeal,” concluded Cox. “The NRA will continue to fight on behalf of our members, permit holders and victims of crime until this reasonable self-defense measure is restored as Tennessee law.”

Established in 1871, the National Rifle Association is America’s oldest civil rights and sportsmen’s group. Four million members strong, NRA continues its mission to uphold Second Amendment rights and to advocate enforcement of existing laws against violent offenders to reduce crime. The Association remains the nation’s leader in firearm education and training for law-abiding gun owners, law enforcement and the military.