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Hunting and fishing could go on 2024 ballot

A fishing vessel plying the waters of Apalachicola Bay.
Debbie Elliott
A fishing vessel plying the waters of Apalachicola Bay.

Florida voters next year could decide whether to enshrine a right to hunt and fish in the state Constitution.

House and Senate panels Monday began moving forward with a proposed constitutional amendment that says, in part, hunting and fishing “shall be preserved forever as a public right and preferred means of responsibly managing and controlling fish and wildlife.”

The proposal, if approved by the Legislature, would go on the November 2024 ballot. The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 8-1 Monday to approve the Senate version (SJR 1234), while the House Agriculture, Conservation & Resiliency Subcommittee voted unanimously to approve the House version (HJR 1157).

House sponsor Lauren Melo, R-Naples, said 23 other states, including all other states in the Southeast, have passed similar rights. Meanwhile, Senate sponsor Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said some states have seen efforts to ban hunting and fishing.

Supporters of the proposed Florida constitutional amendment pointed to issues such as the role hunting and fishing play in managing wildlife.

“You take away the thoughtful and measured impacts of hunting and fishing, you’re going to get nature way out of balance,” Senate Majority Leader Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula, said.

But Sen. Tina Polsky, a Boca Raton Democrat who cast the only dissenting vote, questioned the need for a constitutional amendment and pointed to repeated efforts in recent years by Republicans to limit changes to the Constitution. She called hunting and fishing “absolutely sacrosanct” in Florida and said the hunting and fishing industry isn’t in jeopardy in Florida or other states.

“There’s no way we wouldn’t have both of these sports going on in the state of Florida,” Polsky said. “It would be like preserving tennis. I mean, seriously, I don’t understand why we’d be doing this. The Constitution is sacred.”

But Sen. Jonathan Martin, R-Fort Myers, said he looks forward to “protecting the right to fish and hunt for myself and for my kids and maybe someday grandkids.”

“It might seem like it’s useless right now but there’s a whole lot of things we can take a step back 10 years ago, and say, ‘Oh, why would we need to ever have a law or a constitutional amendment to do this?’ And there’s no reason to keep something good from the Constitution just because we may not need to use it for a couple years,” Martin said.

The bill received backing from several outdoors groups and the International Order of T. Roosevelt, an organization that backs such proposals nationally. Luke Hilgemann, the organization’s executive director, told the Senate committee that “hunting, fishing is conservation in America.”

The proposal would not limit the ability of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to set rules for fishing and hunting.

Jim Saunders - News Service of Florida