HARRISBURG - One of Pennsylvania's longest standing — and emotional — issues was on full display in the State Capitol Building on Tuesday.
The Game and Fisheries Committee in the state House of Representatives heard testimony from farming, hiking and sportsmen organizations on a bill that would lift a ban on Sunday hunting for three Sundays each year. These Sundays would be one during archery season, one during deer rifle season and one to-be-determined Sunday.
Pennsylvania is one of three states that still has a ban on Sunday hunting, although the commonwealth does allow Sunday hunting for crows, foxes and coyotes. It was first instituted as part of the state's "blue laws," which blocked residents from recreational activities or work on Sundays. The ban on Sunday hunting is 337 years old.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau opposes the legislation, Senate Bill 147, because it does not include some of the criteria it told lawmakers it needed for the organization to move to a neutral position on the issue, like a provision to require hunters to receive written permission to hunt on private land on a Sunday.
Darrin Youker, the director of state government affairs at the Farm Bureau, testified that this move was significant "for an organization that's historically been opposed to Sunday hunting in any way, shape or form." He credited the state Senate, which passed the legislation in June by a 36-14 vote, for amending the bill from about a dozen Sundays each year to three. He also advocated for a "purple paint" House bill that would allow property owners to paint property lines with purple paint to have the same consequences as trespassing signs on a property.
The Keystone Trails Association joined the Farm Bureau in opposing the legislation, because "safety is a paramount concern" for its members," its executive director Joe Neville said.
Although this is one of the most emotional topics in the commonwealth, several lawmakers on the board were not upset about the legislation. They were upset with the testimony from Harold Daub, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen & Conservationists. Daub warned the legislators during their testimony not to be bullied by the Farm Bureau.
Several lawmakers including Reps. David Maloney, R-Berks, and Rep. Ed Neilson, D-Philadelphia, used their time to say they were not being bullied by the Farm Bureau, instead of asking questions about the legislation. Other members used their time to question the paneled stakeholders about ways to possibly institute the written permission concerns.
Youker said the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has not bullied other organizations and that its messaging has been consistent about what it needs to move to a neutral position, including written permission and increased trespassing restrictions.
"It’s not a new wrinkle that we threw into it," Youker said late Tuesday.
Daub, the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation all testified in support of SB 147. Daub said the bill is "a start" to increase hunting participation in Pennsylvania and criticized the Farm Bureau for a "decades-old strategy of running out the clock each legislative session," to keep Sunday hunting legislation from getting passed.
Jake McGuigan, the managing director of government affairs at the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for firearms and ammunition companies, claimed the Farm Bureau was aligning itself with a similar position to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which is often the adversary of farmers. PETA supports a decline in hunting in Pennsylvania.
Rep. Mindy Fee, R-Manheim, is a member of the Game and Fisheries committee. She said she'll wait and see if there are any amendments on the Sunday hunting legislation before she decides how she'll vote.
"Truthfully, I'm a compromiser," Fee said after the hearing. "I like that there's a compromise."
Fee is keeping a running tally of people who contact her office about the issue. If the bill comes up, she'll vote depending on what that tally totals up to.
"People are very emotional about Sunday hunting," Fee added.
The House will be back in session on Tuesday, Sept. 17. If Chairman Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-York County, decides to call up the bill again, the committee would take a vote on whether it should go to the full House.