Virginia General Assembly Voting on Outdoor Bills - Sunday Hunting, Coyote Contests, Trespass & More
The Virginia General Assembly convened last week for its 2022 session with the Republican Party again the majority in the House of Delegates and the state executive offices. Democrats hold a slim majority in the Senate.
Hundred of new bills were filed before the session began and, likely many more will be forthcoming in the next week or two. Among them are several bills that would overturn some of the sweeping gun control laws passed two years ago and signed into law by then Governor Ralph Northam when Democrats completely controlled state government.
How the Republican-led efforts to undo some of those laws will play out, given Democrat control of the Senate is uncertain.
Proposed legislation purely related to hunting and fishing are somewhat sparse so far.
Sunday Hunting on Public Land
One of the first bills entered was Senator J. Chapman Petersen (D-34), Senate Bill 8, which would allow hunting on Sundays on both public or private land, so long as it takes place more than 200 yards from a place of worship.
Delegate James E. Edmunds III (R-60) introduced Sunday hunting legislation each of the last two years. His bill last year was quickly sentenced to die, killed in committee without fair or adequate debate. Maybe that’s why his HB 111 this session only pertains to hunting state-owned wildlife management areas on Sundays. Unlike Peterson’s proposal, it would appear the huge amounts of national and state forests lands are not being considered.
Edmunds is co-chairman (along with Senator Emmett W. Hangar Jr.) of the Virginia Legislative Sportsmen's Caucus, supported by the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation.
John Culclasure, CSF’s Southeastern States assistant director, said, “We support opening Sunday hunting on all public lands where hunting is permitted, and we particularly see the need to allow Sunday hunting on Wildlife Management Areas, which are purchased and managed with sportsmen-generated dollars. Non-hunters have unrestricted access to WMAs seven days a week and that will not change with the passage of this bill. However, their ability to enjoy these lands is predicated on the financial contributions of sportsmen and women. Hunting, and hunters, therefore, deserve priority status in decision making related to WMA use.”
Peterson’s proposal is certainly the best option for Virginia hunters. The usual litany of easily refutable smokescreen objections from horse enthusiasts and, curiously, the Farm Bureau about public safety, religion and noise should not be allowed to stand in the way of striking down this last Virginia blue law. Peterson's bill was approved out of committee on a 9-4-2 vote (with the two being abstentions).
Licenses, Fees, Rifles & Trespassing
A couple of bills attempt to lighten or eliminate the cost of a state hunting license for disabled veterans. First, HB 115 by Delegate Bill D. Wiley (R-29) sets up a special hunting and fishing license for disabled veterans who are at least 50 percent disabled. It would authorize any such resident veterans to receive at no cost from the Department of Wildlife Resources a lifetime license to hunt and freshwater fish. Current law authorizes a free lifetime license to veterans who is totally and permanently disabled and a 50% discount to veterans who are 70% disabled.
The other proposal, HB 120 by Delegate Scott Wyatt (R-97) would allow a special lifetime hunting and fishing license for resident veterans with at least a 30% service-connected disability. The price reduction would vary depending on the veteran's disability rating.
Bills to offer all kinds of licensing or tax relief to veterans and other groups are routine. They certainly feel good and appeal to segments of voters. The important thing to consider is that state fish and wildlife agencies are largely funded by license sales. It isn’t clear if these bills would relate just to the basic licenses or in the case of hunting, for example, would they also pertain to various tools and tags, such as archery or muzzleloader licenses and big game tags.
Wyatt’s HB 124 authorizes using rifles shooting .22 caliber centerfire ammunition to hunt big game. Current Department of Wildlife Resources regulations only allow rifles with a caliber of .23 or greater. Ensuring you have “enough gun” to dispatch a deer quickly and humanely is always a consideration for any ethical hunter. Key with any .22-caliber centerfire would be ensuring the hunter was using bullets that enable an ethical kill. Fortunately, many such cartridges are available for rifles such as the .223 Remington, .22-250 Remington, 22 Nosler, .220 Swift or .224 Valkyrie. The problems would arise when someone decides to use their groundhog rounds for deer hunting.
Delegate Terry L. Austin (R-19) has HB 463. It removes the authorization for the DWR to charge a fee for the use of facilities that it manages but does not own as well as boat ramps that it owns or manages. Senator John S. Edwards (D-21) has companion bill SB 141 in the Senate.
Not directly hunting or fishing related, by HB 666 from Delegate William C. Wampler III (R-64) gives active duty military and veterans a break on state park fees. It directs the Department of Conservation and Recreation to establish a policy entitling any veteran or person on active duty military service to pay no fee for access, entry, or parking at a state park, and to receive a 50% discount for various park services and amenities.
Senator David W. Marsden (D-37) introduced SB 536 which would increase the level of crime for trespassing hunters, upping the penalty for any person who goes on the lands, waters, ponds, boats or blinds of another to hunt, fish or trap without the consent of the landowner or his agent from a Class 4 to a Class 1 misdemeanor. The penalty for anyone intentionally releasing hunting dogs on properly posted land without landowner or landowner agent permission increases from a Class 3 misdemeanor to a Class 1 misdemeanor.
Here is Anticipated Predator Hunting Contest Bill
Unsurprisingly, HB 1247 by Delegate Mark L. Keam (D-35) would amend Virginia law to make it illegal to organize, sponsor, promote, conduct, participate in, or solicit participation in a contest, organized competition, tournament, or derby in which participants are offered cash, prizes, or other inducements of monetary value to capture or kill coyotes or fur-bearing animals. The remains of any coyote or fur-bearing animal killed during any activity prohibited by this section shall be forfeited, and the remains of such animal shall become the property of the Department.
The Virginia DWR floated a similar controversial proposal last summer, looking at creating a regulation, seemingly following the lead of a handful of liberal West Coast states and a couple New England states. After creating a huge swath of public record related to this issue, they decided they didn’t have the authority to create such a regulation. As I predicted in my newspaper column then, this was simply teeing up the legislation for this ongoing session of the General Assembly. This is a bad bill, a slippery slope to banning everything from fishing derbies to big buck contests. It needs to fail.
We’ll keep you posted the legislation moves through the process.