PHOENIX - 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 put them on the ballot and ask voters to modify what Proposition 109 would make a state constitutional right to hunt.
Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, a hunter who sponsored the measure at the behest of the National Rifle Association and hunting groups, said Friday that 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 . . . 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," he continued. "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 that the Legislature has not imposed any such restrictions in his memory. He said, though, that "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 were able to get the issue on the ballot, and 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 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, however.
The proposition would only make it harder to amend hunting law, once it is enshrined in the Arizona Constitution.
It takes 50 percent more petition signatures to put constitutional amendments on the ballot than the number needed for other initiatives. It currently takes 230,047 valid signatures to propose a constitutional change, compared with 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 has proposed any sort of ban on hunting. "There's no need for it," she said.
Weiers conceded that 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.