By Aubrey Helms & Lesley Weidenbener
The Indiana House passed a controversial bill Tuesday that will legalize and regulate fenced deer hunting preserves, despite concern among opponents that hunting captive animals is unethical.
House Bill 1453 now moves to the Senate.
The bill’s author, Rep. Sean Eberhart, R-Shelbyville, called the proposal “common sense regulations” and said legalizing the preserves would have a $40 million impact on the state’s economy.
If passed into law, the bill would end a decade-old fight about the hunting preserves, which the Indiana Department of Natural Resources initially OK’d and then later tried to shut down, saying no state law authorized them. The preserves sued and the Indiana Court of Appeals recently ruled that the DNR has no grounds to regulate them.
But the court said the General Assembly could step in and establish a regulatory framework.
Eberhart said that gave the General Assembly three options: Shut the industry down, do nothing or “come up with a common sense bill to address the concerns and come up with some regulations.”
The bill requires the preserves to be licensed and pay fees. It sets a minimum size of 100 acres, sets standards for fencing and restricts construction of roads. It also requires the sites be inspected by the DNR and Board of Animal Health.
Rep. Lloyd Arnold, R-Leavenworth, voted against the bill and said hunting in preserves is unethical.
“I believe in the fair chase,” he said.
But some lawmakers said the ethics of hunting can be a gray area. Rep. Matt Lehman, R-Berne, said he fishes in stocked ponds. And Rep. Alan Morrison, R-Terre Haute, said “when we start to talk about fair chase, there’s a lot of different levels there.”
“It’s up to us at this point to regulate it,” Morrison said, “and make sure they are playing by some rules.”
The bill passed 55-39.
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