A state legislator said Arizona needs a constitutional amendment to protect the rights of hunters from people who watch too many Disney movies.
Proposition 109, if approved in November, would preclude legislators from making changes in hunting laws, at least by themselves. Instead, they would have to refer them to the ballot and ask voters to create an exception from that constitutional right to hunt this measure would create.
Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, a hunter who sponsored the measure at the behest of the National Rifle Association and hunting groups, said Friday such curbs on legislative power are necessary.
"If you went and watched an old Walt Disney movie, Bambi, you walked out of there and you've got big old friggin' tears rolling down your cheeks and you're going, man those hunters are horrible guys and shouldn't be killing deer," Weiers said. "You go to a legislator and ask that legislator to run a bill for you. And that legislator has the power, and all the stars line just right, the legislature can stop deer hunting. Boom. Just like that."
Weiers acknowledged the Legislature has not imposed any such restrictions in his memory. He said, though, "it's possible."
But Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said that shows the real intent of the measure is to make it harder for Arizona voters themselves to alter the law.
In 1994, for example, proponents of a ban on steel-jawed leg-hold traps on public lands managed to get the issue on the ballot where voters approved it.
"Why would the voters agree to taking away their right to decide issues on the ballot?" Pacelle asked at a Friday press conference after he and members of other groups involved with animal rights formally formed a committee to oppose Proposition 109.
"Today it's wildlife because there's a special interest group of trophy hunters who want to lock things up as they are forever," he said. "But it could be any other cause in the future."
Nothing in Proposition 109 would ban future initiatives.
It would, however, make it more difficult: Proponents would need to propose amending the Arizona Constitution.
That takes 50 percent more signatures on petitions to get such measures on the ballot. For example, it currently takes 230,047 valid signatures to propose a constitutional change, versus 153,365 to seek to amend state law.
Stephanie Nichols-Young of the Animal Defense League of Arizona, argued that erecting the higher hurdle in questions of hunting sets a bad precedent.
"Initiative rights have been a check and balance," she said, giving voters the right to enact their own laws when legislators will not. "So we really feel voters should look at this as a slippery slope."
Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club said none of the groups opposing Proposition 109 have proposed any sort of ban on hunting. "There's no need for it," she said.
Weiers conceded there is no actual threat to hunting in Arizona today. But he said the measure would ensure that the rules about hunting - who can hunt, what they can hunt and when they can hunt it - are decided by the state Game and Fish Commission.
"I don't want it done through emotion," he said.
But the measure comes after some elements of the hunting community got lawmakers to increase their hold on that commission which determines hunting seasons and numbers of animals to be "harvested" each year.
Until this year, the governor got to choose all five commissioners. The only restriction was that not more than three commissioners be from the same party and all must be "well informed on the subject of wildlife and requirements for its conservation."
A new law, also pushed by Weiers, requires the governor to choose from a list of at least five names submitted by the screening panel. And while the governor names the members of that panel, the law limits who qualifies.
Suzanne Gilstrap who lobbies for Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife, acknowledged during the legislative debate her group wants more control over who sits on the commission. She said hunters were "shut out of the process almost entirely" when Janet Napolitano was governor.
That change, signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer, came over the objection of Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson. Patterson, who said he is a hunter, said it gives control of the screening panel to groups that do not represent most hunters in the state.
Gilstrap said hunters, who fund more than 70 percent of the budget of the Game and Fish Commission, should have a major say in who sits on the agency that sets the rules.