One member of the Pennsylvania House Game and Fisheries Committee expects legislation to allow Sunday hunting to reach the House floor for a vote this year.
Senate Bill 147, which would expand Sunday hunting to three additional days — one Sunday during the statewide archery season, a second in the statewide firearms season and the third to be chosen by the Pennsylvania Game Commission — passed the Senate earlier this year. It was referred to the House Game and Fisheries Committee on June 27, but the bill might not remain there much longer.
State Rep. Jerry Mullery, D-Luzerne, said he expects the bill to reach the House floor this year, but he’s unsure if there is enough support to pass the measure.
The uncertainty, Mullery said, stems from a September committee hearing on the bill when Harold Daub, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists, suggested lawmakers were being bullied by the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau to oppose Sunday hunting legislation.
The remark didn’t sit well with legislators.
“A lot of members took that personally. If this guy thinks members had been bullied by any lobbying group, then he doesn’t know this committee very well,” Mullery said, adding he’s in favor of the bill but, because of Daub’s remark, isn’t sure how many of his fellow legislators feel the same.
“After the hearing, some members may have re-thought their vote,” Mullery said.
The Farm Bureau, however, had a firm response to Daub’s “bullying” allegation.
“It was ridiculous, unfounded and simply untrue,” said state farm bureau spokesman Mark O’Neill.
As for the bill in its current form, O’Neill said it isn’t supported by Farm Bureau. But he said there are three provisions that, if included in the bill, would allow the organization to take a neutral position.
Two of the three conditions — a maximum of three Sundays and stricter trespassing laws — are included in the bill. A requirement for hunters to receive written permission before hunting on any private land on a Sunday, however, isn’t included.
“We will be strongly opposing the bill in its current form,” O’Neill said. “There is talk about an amendment added to the current bill to address written permission. If so, and no other unfavorable amendments are added, we would take a neutral position.”
Wyoming County farmer Ed Freeman is not entirely opposed to Sunday hunting, but before he can support the idea there needs to be significantly stronger penalties for trespassing, he said.
The proposed bill does include language that would make trespassing while hunting a primary offense, making it enforceable by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and other law enforcement, but that’s not enough for Freeman.
He said trespassing on farms has long been a problem, and the current fines aren’t a deterrent.
“It’s a safety issue. Yes, we need hunters, but I only want people here when they’re supposed to be here and I know where they are,” he said. “I would rather hold off on Sunday hunting until we get the trespassing issues addressed.”
If the Sunday hunting bill is passed by the House this year, it’s possible that it could be enacted during the current hunting season.
But it would have to happen quickly, as the statewide archery season began on Oct. 5.
Since two of the Sundays to be added to the hunting season are already defined in the bill (one during archery season and another in the firearms season), Game Commission spokesman Travis Lau said his agency’s board could hold a proxy vote to quickly choose the third date.
“I don’t believe it would be too late,” he said. “It’s not ideal because the dates aren’t included in the (hunting and trapping) digest.”
Lau also surmised if the bill did pass, two allotted dates would be set for the first Sunday after the Saturday opener for the firearms deer season, and a Sunday during the last two weeks of the fall archery season.