HARRISBURG — A controversial move to allow hunting on Sunday passed a key hurdle Monday as the Game and Fisheries Committee approved the proposal after amending the bill in a compromise to get the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau to drop its opposition.
Under the proposal, which now goes to the full House, hunting would be allowed on up to three Sundays — two in deer season and one other Sunday selected by the Game Commission.
Pennsylvania is one of just three states that ban hunting on Sunday, said state Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Allegheny County. The others are Massachusetts and Maine.
The Sunday hunting proposal passed 21-4 with four Republicans voting against it: Rep. Torren Ecker, R-Adams County; Sue Gleim, R-Cumberland County; Clint Owlett, R-Tioga County; and Parke Wentling, R-Mercer County.
In a brief interview after the meeting, Wentling said he opposed the bill out of concern that allowing Sunday hunting would spur too many property owners to bar hunting any day of the week. But supporters have said that the measure will help encourage more people to hunt.
Over a 10 year period ending in 2017, the number of hunters with adult resident licenses dropped 12 percent — from 665,719 in 2007 to 587,640 in 2017 — according to Game Commission data.
Kortz said the Sunday hunting ban is 337 years old. Pennsylvania allowed fishing on Sunday in 1939, he said.
“We’re on the cusp of getting this done,” Kortz said. “Hopefully, next year sometime we’ll be able to hunt on Sunday.”
The Game and Fisheries Committee approved a Kortz amendment to require written permission from landowners while hunting on Sunday. That amendment was offered to get the Farm Bureau to take a neutral position on the bill, Kortz said.
The Sunday hunting bill has already passed the state Senate and Kortz said Senate officials have agreed to accept the change adding the written permission requirement. It’s not clear when the full House will vote on the measure, state Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-York County, the chairman of the Game and Fisheries Committee, told reporters after the meeting. Gillespie voted to move the legislation out of committee but said he’s not sure if he’ll support it on final passage. Gillespie said he’s surveyed his constituents and found opponents in his district outnumber supporters of the proposal by a 2-to-1 margin.
The committee considered a bid to amend the legislation that would have explicitly allowed local police and sheriff deputies to make trespassing arrests based on complaints from landowners about hunters.
That proposal was offered by state Rep. David Maloney, R-Berks County, who said it would relieve some of the burden in responding to trespassing complaints that Sunday hunting would place on the Game Commission wildlife conservation officers.
Maloney pulled his amendment before it was voted upon after representatives from both the National Rifle Association and the Fraternal Order of Police said they opposed the change. Kortz said the Farm Bureau had also opposed the Maloney change.