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Sunday hunting clear for passage / January 29, 2014

Sunday hunting in Virginia is poised to become a reality after legislation in the House of Delegates passed Tuesday by a 71-27 margin.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Del. Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah County, succeeded over the objections of most Southside lawmakers who sought to give localities the authority to determine if Sunday hunting should be allowed within their borders.

The legislation now heads over to the Senate, where passage is expected. state Sen. Frank Ruff (R-Clarksville) noted that a similar bill easily cleared the Senate last year with bipartisan support.

Attempts to stop the bill in the House yesterday were “not even close,” conceded Del. Tommy Wright of Lunenburg, who opposed the measure.

Del. James Edmunds of Halifax, another opponent, noted that the constituents he heard from in the run-up to Tuesday’s vote were overwhelmingly opposed to Sunday hunting.

“I’m disappointed. The majority of my constituents — several hundred of them — opposed this bill,” said Edmunds, who represents Charlotte County in the legislature. “I had a tremendous response to my earlier e-mail asking for comments, although the message was out for only a short while.”

The bill’s passage on Tuesday was sealed after a key committee vote the preceding Wednesday. After years of seeing Sunday hunting die in subcommittee, the full House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee reported the bill out on a 12-10 vote, paving the way for full consideration by the House.

Gilbert tailored the legislation — HB 1237 — to attract the support of upstate lawmakers. Among its provisions: Sunday hunting is restricted to private lands where the owner grants permission; hunting cannot take place within 200 feet of houses of worship; and Sunday hunters will not be allowed to use dogs.

Del. Matthew Fariss (R-Rustburg) offered an amendment to allow localities to opt out of the law by adopting their own ordinances, but that effort failed. Wright, who worked on the amendment with Fariss, said he was both surprised and saddened that the amendment was defeated.

“So many localities had passed resolutions opposing Sunday hunting, I thought the amendment had a chance,” said Wright.

Wright said he’d heard from a number of constituents, all of whom are against Sunday hunting on a variety of grounds. Some are birdwatchers, hikers or like to ride horses through the woods without concern for hunters nearby, he said; others say Sunday is the only day they can enjoy outdoors activities in peace during hunting season. Others feel that Sundays should be respected as a day of worship and for family time, said Wright.

Those in favor of the legislation, including members of the Virginia Board of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF), countered that families with school aged children often spend their Saturdays on school and sport activities, leaving little time to hunt together. By allowing Sunday hunting, busy families now have a day to teach hunting to the next generation. They see the bill as a way to encourage hunter recruitment and provide a substantial economic benefit to the Commonwealth’s tourism industry, particularly in rural areas.

Wright disputed DGIF’s assumption that Sunday hunting would benefit tourism: “There is no proof that allowing Sunday hunting increases the number of licenses issued,” Wright argued on the House floor during Tuesday’s debate.

Currently, Virginia is one of only six states in the nation that strictly bans hunting on Sundays.

Last year the House Natural Resources Subcommittee, of which Wright is a member, killed a similar bill by a 4-3 vote. This year’s bill bypassed the subcommittee. Instead it went straight to the House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee, where it narrowly passed before heading to the full House for a vote.

The bill was heavily supported by the NRA, Edmunds said, and he said the outcome demonstrates how little clout rural legislators have in state government. He also said he could not agree with proponents that passage of the bill does not have fiscal implications. “With just one game warden, how is one person supposed to work everyday, answer the telephone and respond to all the needs of the office?” said Edmunds.

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