CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than 15 years after it was a major political battle at the state capitol the issue of Sunday hunting is back up for consideration again in the legislative session. The issue became ugly the last time this happened. The issue pitted the powerful lobby of the Farm Bureau against sportsman’s groups in the state. The result was the measure we currently have. Sunday hunting is legal on private land statewide, but voters in each county can get the issue on the ballot and vote to close it. Voters in 41 counties did just that the next election after the bill became law. In fact, it was voted out in every county where it was on the battle that first year.
But time has passed and water under the bridge has changed at least some attitudes. Voters in seven of those counties have voted to open Sunday hunting back up and it will be on the ballot in Berkeley County in May.
The changed attitude bolstered Sunday hunting advocates who have managed to get a bill moving in the House of Delegates this year to open Sunday hunting statewide. This time, they want to do it with no option to vote it out and on all lands, public and private. The bill passed the House Natural Resources Committee but it has stalled in the House Judiciary Committee. Ironically, the battle 15 years ago which led to the current state of things is probably its biggest obstacle this year.
Although proponents tell me they think they have enough support in both chambers of the legislature to get the measure passed, there appear to be more than a few who have mixed feelings. The Farm Bureau hasn’t been nearly as vocal and adamantly opposed to the measure this year as they were in 2001, but in an appearance on MetroNews Talkline a representative of the organization said the Farm Bureau, as a matter of policy, remained opposed to Sunday hunting.
“We’ve always had a long standing position that it’s a day of rest and a time for families to gather and enjoy each other,” said Wayne O’Dell with the Farm Bureau. “We believe the other six days are adequate to meet the sportsman’s needs.”
O’Dell did add however, during that Talkline appearance, indicate his organization is okay with the local option vote. That very measure may be the undoing of this year’s effort.
Supporters of Sunday hunting bolster their position with the fact so many West Virginians have been forced to work six days a week to make ends meet and in many cases Sunday is their only day off and the only day to hunt. They rightly suggest adding another day of hunting will help increase economic activity in some of the state’s most rural areas. Their strongest argument seems to be the property rights issue. Advocates ask why it is okay for the government to tell a landowner what they can and cannot do on their own land one day of the week–when that same activity is legal the other six days of the week. It’s certainly a compelling set of arguments, but capitol insiders say the cloak room talk centers on a hesitancy by some lawmakers to over ride the will of the people.
You see in order to get a bill through, Sunday hunting supporters in 2001 compromised on the local option vote and on limiting Sunday hunting to private land. Without those measures in 2001, nothing would have passed. The 41 counties where it came up for a vote the following election said, “No.” That put the matter to rest for more than a decade…until recently when voters in seven counties changed their minds….but it was voters who changed their minds on their own. Lawmakers are not ready, particularly in an election year, to have something on their voting record which reversed the outcome of a vote by the people. That concern may doom the chances of a Sunday hunting bill surviving this year at the capitol.