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Redundant rights

Choose your simile. As slippery as a lake trout in lanolin. As elusive as a cougar in camouflage. As unpredictable as a snapping turtle on a sailboat.

That’s how it’s going to be for a few weeks with Indiana legislative bills that promise to guarantee us rights we already have – to fish, hunt and farm – in order to sneak through special rights for special interests.

Opponents of government for the few at the expense of the many were somewhat heartened when a newly reconstituted version of last year’s Senate Joint Resolution 9, “The Right to Hunt and Fish,” was introduced last week without a clause about food production rights that would make it even more difficult to regulate the agribusinesses known as controlled animal feeding operations.

CAFOs can generate a host of issues, from offensive odors and water pollution to unethical treatment of animals. For the moment at least, the effort to protect those operations from fed-up neighbors, local health and zoning boards and other pesky outsiders will be carried forward in another measure, Senate Bill 186.

SJR 9 bill now concentrates on pretending to guarantee Hoosiers the right to hunt and fish, which as everyone knows has been under attack by … well, no one at all. Never go by the labels at the General Assembly. SJR 9 is actually about guaranteeing canned-hunting facilities the right to sell “hunters” the opportunity to shoot deer in fenced-in “forests,” a sport that is repulsive to real hunters.

But there is a catch. SJR 9 was originally to be a proposed amendment to the state constitution when it was passed two sessions ago. But there are no second shots, flycasts or planting seasons for the hunt-fish-farm amendment. In order to go on this fall’s election ballot, the identical amendment proposal would have to pass both houses before the end of this session in March.

So it seems likely that we haven’t seen the last versions of these unnecessary bills this winter. Or, as Kim Ferraro, staff attorney for the Hoosier Environmental Council, put it with a perhaps unintentional pun: “We’re not out of the woods yet.”

It’s possible for the “right” to “engage in the agricultural or commercial production of meat, fish, poultry, or dairy products” to be morphed back into a version of the “hunt and fish” measure through a legislative maneuver called a vehicle joint resolution. Then, if passed, it could go onto the ballot this fall, and voters who don’t read past the label might pass it right into the Indiana Constitution.

Meanwhile, SB 101, the “ag-gag” bill, gets another hearing in the Senate Corrections and Criminal Law Committee in Indianapolis this morning. That bill would give special powers to “agricultural operations” to protect their “trade secrets or operations.”

Why are our lawmakers so dead set on giving special rights to agribusinesspeople? What about candlemakers? What about trumpeters? What about furniture makers and beauticians and sports referees?

Why don’t we all need a shot at tailor-made bills and constitutional amendments? Because the state constitution and the U.S. Constitution already guarantee those rights.