PHOENIX -- State lawmakers approved two measures Monday designed to give more power to hunters to protect their rights.
Without debate, the House gave preliminary approval to a measure that would provide constitutional protection to the right to hunt. The measure is being pushed by the National Rifle Association.
Separately, the House also voted to restrict the ability of the governor to pick who she or he wants to appoint 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 at large.
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 bans.
He said that fear is not far-fetched, with Michigan voters several years ago deciding to ban the hunting of doves.
"We don't want that to happen,' he said.
The constitutional amendment HCR 2008 would create would tie the hands of legislators. And any group which wanted to take the issue to voters would need 50 percent more signatures just to propose overriding the constitutional protections.
This measure itself would first require voter approval in November -- once it gets a final roll-call vote in the House and goes through the Senate.
But his 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 not 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.
The governor would name the members of that panel. But the legislation would place some restrictions on who would qualify,
"It would allow a very narrow set of interest 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 crafted, 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.'
Suzanne Gilstrap who lobbies for Arizona Sportsmen for Wildlife, acknowledged her group qualifies for at least one of the slots. But she said there is at least one other hunting organization that also fits the same definition.
Patterson, who said he is a hunter, said there is no reason to monkey with a system he believes has worked well. Gilstrap disagreed, saying 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.
"During the past administration they were shut out of the process almost entirely,' Gilstrap complained of the six years that Gov. Janet Napolitano chose commissioners. "That's not fair.'
Weiers said the screening panels would create a more open process, allowing anyone interested to apply and ensuring that the public knows -- and can weigh in on -- who has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the commission. He said nothing in his proposal would stop the governor from making the final choice -- as long as she or he chose from the list of nominees.