PHOENIX - State lawmakers approved two measures Monday designed to protect hunters' rights.
Without debate, the House gave preliminary approval to a National Rifle Association-backed measure to provide constitutional protection to the right to hunt.
The House also voted to restrict the ability of the governor to appoint members to the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. Instead, the choice would have to come from those nominated by a special screening panel, a panel that Rep. Daniel Patterson, D-Tucson, said does not represent most hunters in the state.
But Rep. Jerry Weiers, R-Glendale, who is pushing both measures, said he believes the screening panel will result in a more public process than now exists.
Central to both battles is Weiers' belief that hunting needs greater protection from both politicians and the public.
Weiers said it takes only 31 members of the House, 16 senators and consent of the governor to stop any sort of hunting. Similarly, any group that gathers 153,365 valid signatures can now put a measure on the ballot to enact hunting bans.
He said his fear is not far-fetched, as Michigan voters several years ago decided to ban the hunting of doves.
"We don't want that to happen," he said.
Even if Weiers gets the legislative votes he needs for HCR 2008, voters would still have to approve in November. If they do, the constitutional amendment would would tie the hands of legislators. And any group that wanted to take the issue to voters would need 50 percent more signatures just to propose overriding the constitutional protections.
Weiers' other measure, HB 2189, needs only legislative approval.
Under current law, the governor gets to choose all five members of the state Game and Fish Commission, subject only to Senate confirmation.
The only restriction is that no more than three commissioners can be from the same party and all must be "well-informed on the subject of wildlife and requirements for its conservation."
Weiers' legislation would require the governor to choose from a list of at least five names submitted by the screening panel. Although the governor would appoint the panel, there would be restrictions on who could be appointed.
"It would allow a very narrow set of interests to determine who could be on the Arizona Game and Fish Commission," complained Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr. She said the way the legislation is written, one of the three slots is virtually guaranteed to go to someone named by the Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife.
Patterson also said he believes the system HB 2189 would set up is skewed, saying the screening panel members who would represent hunting would come "mostly from the side of trophy hunting, less emphasis on habitat protection."
Patterson, who said he is a hunter, said there is no reason to monkey with a system he believes has worked well.