Notebook: Hoffman pushing for a constitutional guarantee
Henry Hoffman has spent a lifetime enjoying Pennsylvania's outdoors. A member of the Pitcairn-Monroeville Sportsmen's Club, he's had the privilege of hunting and fishing in various places across the state.
Now, though, he and a number of like-minded sportsmen are supporting an effort to turn that privilege into a right.
State Rep. Matt Baker, a Bradford County Republican, is the prime sponsor of House Bill 532. It calls for amending Pennsylvania's constitution to guarantee sportsmen the right to "hunt, fish and harvest game."
Baker first introduced the bill last session. It passed the House of Representatives, only to die on the floor of the Senate when other lawmakers tried to tack on language capping the damages people could receive in medical malpractice cases.
Senate leaders would not let the bill move forward under those conditions, Baker said.
He's reintroduced the bill this session because animal rights activists have challenged the right to hunt, fish and trap in other states. Baker doesn't want to see that war fought here.
"Right now, without a constitutional right to hunt and fish, some organizations are challenging those rights in one way or another," Baker said. "We want to prevent that before a crisis occurs."
Hoffman, who also serves as first vice president of the Allegheny County Sportsmen's League -- which is supporting the proposed amendment -- said the bill is important because it could keep the "anti-gunners and bunny huggers" who are committed to ending hunting, fishing and trapping from getting their way.
"It's for the hunters of today and the future hunters," Hoffman said. "My grandkids are coming up now, and three or four of them like to hunt. It's for them and all of us."
Steve Mohr, a member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission board from Lancaster, supports the measure, too.
"If they can beat Pennsylvania, they can beat anyone, speaking of the antis," Mohr said. "We can't sit back and wait for them, we've got to be proactive."
The Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs are backing Baker's bill. The Federation has some concerns, however.
Melody Zullinger, the group's executive director, worries that sportsmen won't be able to come up with the money or energy to support the bill if anti-hunting organizations make a determined effort to defeat it. She also worries that, if the bill passes, hunters will take their new right for granted.
The bill only goes so far as to guarantee the right to hunt, fish and harvest game subject to "restrictions relating to species, seasons, licensure, limits, methods and locations, as prescribed by the laws of this Commonwealth," she noted.
"Laws can still be changed, bad laws can still be passed, we can still lose some privileges," Zullinger said.
That's true, Baker said, but the amendment would add a level of protection for sportsmen.
Amending the constitution is not a quick or easy process. The legislature would have to approve Baker's bill this session -- which ends in December 2006 -- then approve it again in the next two-year session. It would then have to be approved by voters in a referendum.
Now, though, is the time to get things moving, Baker said.
"Growing up in a rural area, that's the first thing a lot of kids looked forward to, getting to hunt with their family. I just don't want that right to be challenged or taken away from us," Baker said.