The General Assembly on Wednesday took a major step towards allowing Sunday hunting as a House bill cleared a committee hurdle by a narrow vote.
HB 1237, sponsored by Shenandoah-area Del. Todd Gilbert, passed the full House Agriculture, Chesapeake and Natural Resources Committee yesterday morning on a 12-10 vote. It was the first time the bill had received a full committee vote after being debated in a subcommittee in previous years.
The bill will now go to the full House of Delegates for a vote. It will go to the House for first reading today, second reading on Friday and then come up for final consideration on Monday.
Del. James Edmunds voted against the legislation, saying he is very opposed to allowing hunting on Sundays.
"I'm disappointed. The majority of my constituents — several hundred of them — opposed this bill," said Edmunds. "I had a tremendous response to my earlier e-mail asking for comments although the message was out for only a short while."
Gilbert's bill repeals the ban on Sunday hunting on private lands while still prohibiting hunting within 200 yards of a house of worship and the hunting of deer with dogs. Virginia is one of only six states with a complete ban on Sunday hunting.
The legislation is supported by many hunting groups and the National Rifle Association, but opposed by the Virginia Hunting Dog Alliance political action committee, which has successfully lobbied against the bill in the past. Opening Sundays for hunting also has drawn opposition from rural lawmakers, including Edmunds, who say it will disturb the one day of peace in some rural communities.
Edmunds hopes to offer an amendment to the bill after the second reading on Friday. He will ask that the matter be made a local option, which would mean that local governments such as the Halifax County Board of Supervisors could set hunting regulations.
"All the counties could then make their own decisions about the length of the hunting season," said Edmunds
Hunting regulations vary greatly in different localities, he noted. For instance Halifax County allows hunting for three months while some areas only allow hunting for two weeks.
"I guess that's why many communities want Sunday hunting since their season is so short and this would give them two additional days. Here in Halifax County I don't feel the need for more time to hunt."
Edmunds, said the matter has been before the state legislature since 1990 and explained this is the first time it has bypassed the Natural Resources subcommittee and gone straight to the full committee. For its work in killing the legislation, the seven-person subcommittee has earned the nickname "the Committee of Doom" from pro-Sunday hunting advocates.
"I was told when I first got to Richmond earlier this month that the matter would come to my group first, but that didn't happen," he said.
Along with Edmunds, other "no" votes were cast by area delegates Tommy Wright of Lunenburg, Danny Marshall of Danville and Charles Poindexter of Franklin.