With some minor edits, a bill allowing Pennsylvanians to hunt for quarry on Sundays was kicked to the full state House.
The measure, passed by the state Senate in June, was advanced Monday by the Pennsylvania House Game & Fisheries Committee in a 21-4 vote.
“We’re at the cusp of a historic vote,” said Rep. Bill Kortz, D-Allegheny, the panel’s ranking Democrat.
A ban on Sunday hunting has been law in Pennsylvania for hundreds of years, according to Kortz. The statute is similar to other “blue laws,” or vintage proposals restricting activity on Sunday.
Advancing the proposal, sponsored by Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, took much finagling between interest groups, including the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, hunters, the National Rifle Association, and outdoor recreation groups.
Laughlin’s original bill allowed for hunting every Sunday of the year. But the total was revised down to three to placate opposition from the Farm Bureau.
Under the legislation, the state Game Commission would designate one Sunday during deer rifle season, one during deer bow season, and one more Sunday at the commission’s discretion.
The bill also adds penalties for hunters who trespass on posted land or in defiance of a verbal order from the property owner.
On Monday, the House committee amended the bill to require written permission to hunt on private property on Sundays.
The full House will now take up the bill, which if approved will return to the Senate. If the upper chamber gives the changes its seal of approval, the bill then heads to Gov. Tom Wolf.
The meeting saw some controversy as Rep. David Maloney, R-Berks, offered an amendment to allow state game wardens to designate enforcement of new trespassing provisions to the State Police, local law enforcement, and county sheriffs.
Maloney said trespassing laws are “a distraction from what our game wardens should really be” working on. Expanding enforcement would “spread the responsibility.”
But Kortz was skeptical of the new amendment, and lobbyists from the Fraternal Order of Police and the NRA were invited to share their opposition.
The NRA representative said enough compromises had already been made. Joe Regan, recording secretary with the FOP, said he doubted that game enforcement was “something [local police would] very much like to get involved in.”
Maloney called the NRA’s stance insincere, but withdrew the amendment.
The bill passed with just four dissenting votes, all from rural Republicans.
Committee Chairman Keith Gillespie, R-York, had his own concerns. Rural lawmakers, Gillespie said, are simply trying to listen to their constituent farmers, who don’t want to spend every day of hunting season patrolling their land.
But with the bill out of committee, the full House could vote as early as next week.
Gillespie said the bill is a Senate priority. Laughlin, the bill’s Republican sponsor, represents blue-tinged Erie and is a top 2020 target for Democrats.
This story was updated to correct the “yes” vote total.