INDIANAPOLIS - A state senator’s effort to protect hunters and farmers from the "tentacles" of organizations like the Humane Society by enshrining their rights in Indiana's constitution took another step forward Monday.
A Senate panel unanimously approved the proposal to give Hoosiers the final say through a 2014 statewide referendum on an amendment that would make clear that hunting, fishing and farming are "a valued part of our heritage and shall be forever preserved for the public good."
Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, said the amendment is necessary because of "the radicalism that our nation is facing at this time from outsiders who attack these two very important traditions in this state."
"This idea is nothing new," he said. "The king of England owned the land and the hunting rights were exclusively his, and when our forefathers came to America, they wanted to make sure that never happened again."
Agriculture is an $8 billion industry in Indiana, Steele said. He said the state has nearly 15 million acres’ worth of farms that produce more than 3 billion pounds of dairy products each year.
Meanwhile, he said, there are more than 284,000 Hoosier hunters and 965,000 Hoosiers who fish -- and both industries create jobs and bolster the state’s bottom line with more than $15 million per year in hunting and fishing licenses.
But those rights are now being threatened, Steele said. He specifically pointed the Humane Society of the United States, which he said "not only opposes hunting but they oppose farming," as one such outside organization.
He cited literature from the Humane Society's website indicating the group seeks to reduce the suffering of animals raised for food and improve the treatment of farm animals. He also highlighted its complaints about how plant products are used in farming.
"Fishing and hunting and farming are part of our heritage in Indiana, and all are under attack," Steele said. "They have spread their tentacles."
Some farming advocates said they agree with Steele. The amendment is an "insurance policy," said Bob Kraft, the Indiana Farm Bureau's director of state government relations.
"One never knows what might be coming down the road sometime in the future, particularly when there are well-funded, aggressive organizations out to advance their mission of removing meats from the American diet," Kraft said.
Opponents of the measure said farms need to be regulated.
"There is a dark side to this industry. As with every industry, there are bad actors who cause harm," said Kim Ferraro, the Hoosier Environmental Council's water and agriculture policy director. "We’re entitled to criticize what we deem to be some really harmful practices that we see are polluting waterways or infringing on property rights of other people."
Ferraro also argued that lawmakers need not list one set of trades in Indiana's constitution when other jobs have no such protection.
"Why not coal-mining? Why not steel-making? Why not lawyering?" she said. "Why would we want to give any sort of profession or industry heightened constitutional protection?"
The measure now heads to the full Senate. If it passes both there and in the House, it would go on the November 2014 ballot for final approval.