Pennsylvania's Sunday hunting bill looks moribund

Harrisburg — An effort that began with such promise is apparently destined to end with a fizzle.

Back in spring of 2011, state lawmakers held the first of three hearings around the state to launch House Bill 1760, which would repeal the state’s centuries-old prohibition on Sunday hunting.

The bill would not have created Sunday hunting, but it would have allowed the Pennsylvania Game Commission to include the day in hunting seasons when and where it saw fit.

A bunch of “heavy hitters” in the sporting world – the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance and the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, among others – descended on Pennsylvania to lend their weight to the issue.

It was, supporters said then, the biggest, most organized effort to legalize Sunday hunting the state had ever seen.

But all that’s apparently going to come to naught.

The two lawmakers who have been championing House Bill 1760 – Rep. John Evans, the Crawford County Republican who chairs the House of Representatives Game and Fisheries Committee, and Rep. Ed Staback, the Lackawanna County Democrat who is minority chairman – say that barring any last-minute heroics, the bill is poised to die a quiet death.

“Right now, to be honest with you, it’s pretty much on hold,” said Evans, prime sponsor of the bill.

“I don’t know that it’s on its last legs, but it certainly has stalled,” Staback agreed.

They offered different reasons for that.

Evans said the problem has been a lack of vocal support from hunters who want Sunday hunting. Sportsmen were told early on that if they wanted the bill to pass, they needed to speak up, he said.

Instead, he suggested, too many stayed quiet, perhaps assuming the bill was going to pass.

That’s proved a terrible mistake, he said.

“I think generally speaking, a lot of them assumed this was going to happen without their support. That’s not how this works,” Evans said.

“We haven’t heard the necessary level of support from people who want us to move this in that direction. It’s never really materialized.

“If that changes, if the support develops, we’ll revisit it. But we have to represent the people in our districts.”

Staback said he heard from sportsmen, and four out of every five supported the idea of allowing hunting on Sundays.

The problem, he said, is that a “small minority” of senior members of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau effectively blunted all that. Lawmakers and sportsmen continually sought a way to compromise with the Farm Bureau, he said. The group was never willing to go that step.

An email from the group’s leadership to its members intercepted the day after the third and final Sunday hunting hearing said “it was time to dig in your heels more than ever,” Staback said.

That was enough to keep some lawmakers – especially Republicans who court farmers and hunters equally – on the fence.

“That’s what it boiled down to, in my view. If the Farm Bureau has just taken a neutral stance, this would have sailed through,” Staback said.

That kind of opposition, coupled with less than equal fervor on the side of Sunday hunting supporters, will probably keep the bill from ever even getting out of committee, Evans said. A lot of members don’t “want to put up a tough vote” if the bill has no chance of getting through the House or Senate, he said.

The bill is not totally dead, both agreed. Lawmakers will be in session through late September.

But with things as they are, and this being an election year, the bill’s prospects don’t look bright, they added.

Sunday hunting’s future going forward is even murkier. Both Evans and Staback are retiring at the end of the year. If the issue to have a chance to ever resurface, it’s going to need a new champion.

“Whether someone will be willing to pick up that torch and run with it after the experience we did, time will tell,” Staback said.

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