For more than a decade, the Virginia General Assembly has been a guillotine for legislation that would repeal the state’s controversial ban on Sunday hunting.
Will it be any different this time when the 2014 session gets underway in Richmond Wednesday?
My answer is, probably not.
A bill that would repeal certain aspects of the ban has been tossed into the hopper, but it lacks the kind of organized support and funding necessary for success. Such bills in the past have a history of languishing in committee, then dying, leaving Virginia one of 11 states with major limitations on Sunday hunting.
The best thing Sunday hunting advocates have going for them at this point is a promise from the Safari Club International that it will challenge the ban in court if there aren’t significant efforts to repeal it in the General Assembly. The prestigious, well-heeled club would be using Virginia as a test case.
The flagship Sunday hunting legislation, at this point, is Senate Bill 154, introduced by Phillip Puckett, D-Tazewell. Here’s a look at the bill:
- It would allow landowners or members of their family or any person with written permission to hunt on the landowner’s property, except within 200 yards of a place or worship or accessory structure.
- Hunting deer with dogs on Sunday would be prohibited.
- Public land would be open to waterfowl hunters on Sundays, as long as the hunting didn’t take place within 200 yards of a place of worship or accessory structure. Other public land, including national forest property, would remain closed to Sunday hunting.
Matt O’Brien likes the bill. He is administrator of the 4,000-plus Facebook Group “Legalize Virginia Sunday Hunting for All” www.facebook.com/groups/vasundayhunting4all.
“Virginia is getting another chance at striking down the only blue law left in our state,” he said. “Senate Bill 154 gives private property owners the freedom to choose, within Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries guidelines, to hunt on Sunday.”
The question, how does this bill differ from those shot down in the past?
There are a few subtle ways, but will they be enough to make a difference?
- Most Sunday hunting legislation has been introduced in the House, and never makes it out of the House Committee on Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources. This bill is headed to the Senate where it may receive more favorable status.
- Legislation in the past often has been introduced by urban lawmakers. Sen. Puckett’s hometown Tazewell is decidedly rural and far southwest.
- Sen. Puckett’s bill applies only to private landowners who desire Sunday hunting on their property. Since it doesn’t encompass public land, it eliminates complaints from hikers, horseback riders and other outdoor enthusiasts who say they need one day a week on public property apart from hunters.
- The bill eliminates a lot of controversy from landowners when it bans the use of dogs to hunt deer.
An interesting side, the Virginia Farm Bureau endorsed Sen. Puckett, and now will be his advisory on this issue. The bureau is a major opponent of Sunday hunting, as is the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance.