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Sunday hunting bills pass Pa. House amid dispute over trespass, state parks

By Eric Scicchitano, The Daily Item/TNS

A bill that would routinely open Sundays for hunting advanced out of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives but not without opponents raising concerns about accessing private property, trespass provisions and maintaining restrictions at state parks.

Lawmakers voted 129-73 to approve House Bill 2106, sending the measure to the state Senate for further consideration.

Two related bills also advanced out of the House, one proposing a registry for farmers to connect with hunters for herd management issues and another requiring at least one member of the Pennsylvania Game Commission board to have a background in agriculture. The latter bill would also prevent the commission from contracting lobbyists.

Rep. Mandy Steele, D-Allegheny, introduced all three as a package and each measure was subject to extended scrutiny on the committee level and the House floor. All were updated through varied amendments.

For the first time, Steele said during floor remarks last week, both the Game Commission and the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau support a repeal of Sunday hunting.

An expansion of Sunday hunting — proposed through June 30, 2029 — would allow busy families to connect with each other and nature, and would help instill in younger hunters the responsibility of stewardship of wild places, she said. But, she said it would help farmers whose crops are being damaged in places where deer are overpopulated and also mitigate similar damages to woodlands.

“It is time to end the archaic prohibition on Sunday hunting. It is time to support this unprecedented collaboration of farmers and hunters,” Steele said. “It is time to get more people connected to the land.”

Sunday hunting isn’t completely banned. Foxes, coyotes and crows can be hunted year-round on Sundays. A 2019 law allows the Game Commission to permit hunting on three Sundays annually.

House Bill 2106 would lift the restrictions and allow the Game Commission to use its discretion when adding Sundays into the different hunting seasons.

Some opposition to the expansion raise safety issues with hunters sharing a potentially busy day in woodlands with others riding mountain bikes, hiking or riding horses.

But others oppose the bill because it leaves out the 100 state parks where hunting is permitted, keeping the Sunday restriction in place on the state-owned land.

Additionally, there is opposition to trespass measures within the proposal. The bill would require hunters to have express written permission to access any private land on which they’re hunting or risk being cited with a summary offense. Repeat offenders could see their violations rise to a misdemeanor offense.

Hunters using dogs could access private land, whether there’s signage or fencing, to retrieve the animals as long as they’re unarmed and make an attempt to notify private landowners.

Rep. David Maloney, R-Berks, minority chair of the House Game & Fisheries Committee, said the bill complicates accountability for trespassing and makes it too easy to violate the law.

“You can stand in the middle of nowhere where there’s no house or anyplace to go to and ask permission and scream at the trees and that’s your attempt,” Maloney said during floor remarks.

Maloney added concerns about hunting dogs attacking family pets, particularly small dogs, and also dispersing wildlife from private property when they shouldn’t be hunting the land.

Rep. Andrew Kuzma, R-Allegheny/Washington, said the deer population in his district is “out of control” and in addition to concerns about damages to crops and forests, he said it risks the safety of motorists. However, he said the issues with trespass and related penalties, carving out state park access on Sundays and potentially impacting the opening day of deer hunting season were all issues that caused him to vote “no.”

“If this bill alone expanded Sunday hunting in Pennsylvania I’d be a ‘yes,’ ” Rep. Joe D’Orsie, R-York, said. “This bill also inserts what I believe is an affront to private property rights masquerading as a provision to strengthen them. Requiring written permission to hunt on land and cross property boundaries is cumbersome for hunters and property owners.”

(c)2024 The Daily Item (Sunbury, Pa.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Source: Berkshire mont

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