- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 18, 2000

Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries has printed and is distributing pamphlets to educate voters about a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would enshrine the right to hunt and fish.

But the New York-based Fund for Animals, an animal rights group, says the taxpayer-funded pamphlets cross the line from information to advocacy and is seeking a recall of the materials.

"This constitutional amendment will provide an important protection for the Virginia traditions of hunting and fishing," one section of the pamphlet reads, explaining the amendment's importance.

The pamphlet also says hunting is an "important tool for effectively managing wildlife populations."

Neither department Director William L. Woodfin Jr. nor the department's spokeswoman returned phone calls seeking comment about the pamphlet yesterday.

Jeff Leitner, program coordinator at the Fund for Animals, said the government shouldn't advocate on a constitutional issue it has placed before voters.

State Sen. Leslie L. Byrne, Fairfax Democrat and a vocal opponent of the amendment, also said the pamphlet crosses the line. "If a local government put this out on a bond issue, I think the General Assembly would scream," she said.

The amendment's full text states: "The people have a right to hunt, fish and harvest game, subject to such regulations and restrictions as the General Assembly may prescribe by general law."

The General Assembly approved putting the measure on the ballot by overwhelming margins in the last two sessions. It takes a vote two years in a row, as well as voter approval, before the constitution can be amended.

Mrs. Byrne and Mr. Leitner will debate amendment supporters next week in Richmond, but Mr. Leitner and the Fund for Animals say the issue should not go before voters.

They and the Humane Society of the United States have filed a lawsuit in Circuit Court in Richmond seeking to block the amendment from being voted on in November, arguing that the amendment's full text should appear on the ballot.

Right now, instead of the text, voters will simply decide on the question "Shall the constitution of Virginia be amended by adding a provision concerning the right of the people to hunt, fish and harvest game?"

Opponents say a "political" statement doesn't belong in the constitution, adding that it won't have any effect in law other than to invalidate local hunting and gun-control ordinances.

Attorney General Mark L. Earley yesterday filed the state's response, arguing that state courts routinely have found they have no jurisdiction in matters like this.

He said a proposed amendment's full text is never printed on the ballot, adding that the text is widely disseminated already.

"This case involves an attempt by hunting and fishing opponents [to] win an election by stopping it," Mr. Earley wrote.

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