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Ohio legislators introduce a ballot proposal that guarantees the right to hunt, fish

A fiberglass statue of a giant walleye in Port Clinton. Its mouth is open and full of teeth and its green surface shimmers in the sunlight.
Erin Gottsacker
The Ohio Newsroom
Wylie the Walleye, Port Clinton's 600-pound fiberglass walleye mascot, is situated in a town square, where tourists can take selfies with it after spending a day fishing for the real thing.

GOP lawmakers want to ask voters whether to cement the right to hunt and fish in the Ohio Constitution, and a joint resolution to get that question on the ballot is scheduled for its first committee hearing Wednesday afternoon.

House Joint Resolution 5 does not go much further than its title—proposing to put an amendment in front of voters that reads in part, “the people have a right, which includes the right to use traditional methods, to hunt, fish and harvest wildlife that are traditionally pursued.”

Right to Hunt and Fish amendments exist in more than 20 states already. Voters ratified most of them in the last two decades, although Vermont has had similar language in its founding document since it became a state in the 1790s, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Arizona is the only state so far where voters rejected a right to hunt and fish amendment.

The legislative advocacy arm of the National Rifle Association (NRA) also lists passing them in all 50 states as a top priority.

The intent, Rep. Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) said, is to preempt any future efforts to limit hunting or fishing.

“It's important that we establish which things are rights, because of course, we get a lot of laws that could deviate from your ability to exercise a right if it's not clearly spelled out in the constitution,” Ferguson said in an interview.

Ferguson said in Ohio, he doesn’t see any laws on the books or bills in the works threatening that proposed right. “But it is a concern, that you see things like this in states across the country,” he said.

Generally, opponents in other states—such as animal and environmental organizations—have argued the amendments are overstating threats to hunting and fishing.

The amendment would still allow for the same governing mechanisms, Ferguson said, like hunting season limitations or fishing licensure requirements. According to the legislative text, the Ohio Legislature could pass limitations to “promote wildlife conservation and management” or “preserve the future of hunting and fishing.”

If HJR 5 clears both legislative chambers, it would appear on the November 2024 ballot. A joint resolution needs to get two-thirds of the vote in both the Ohio House and Senate to move forward.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at sdonaldson@statehousenews.org.