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Shooting on the Sabbath

RALEIGH – The North Carolina Senate passed the final version of House Bill 640, the Outdoor Heritage Act, by a 48-33 vote on Wednesday.

The North Carolina House of Representatives had passed the final version, 88-26, on June 18.

All indicators are that Governor McCrory will sign the bill into law.

A similar bill was introduced in 2013 that would have allowed Sunday hunting on private lands with landowner permission, but it never got out of a Senate committee.

While proponents say the bill promotes wildlife-related recreation and youth, the most widely-debated part of the Act had been the Sunday gun hunting provision. This provision would expand the opportunity to hunt with firearms on Sundays on private property as of Oct. 1 of this year.

However, beginning in October 2017, counties would have the option to pass ordinances prohibiting Sunday hunting countywide, or opt out, if the county so chose.

Currently, according to the state Wildlife Commission, only archery and falconry are allowed for hunting on Sunday on private lands. Hunting on Sunday on public lands is limited to military installations under federal jurisdiction.

In amending the bill, religious concerns had some influence on impositions. Some church leaders, who earlier lobbied heavily against the bill, asserted Sunday hunting detracts from church activities.

One of the bill’s early amendments limited gun hunting until after 12 p.m. or noon.

The original bill also allowed for hunting no closer than 300 yards from a place of worship, or house on the property not belonging to the hunter. The Senate changed that to 500 yards, or the size of five football fields.

3rd District State Senator Erica Smith-Ingram, who represents the Roanoke-Chowan counties of Bertie, Hertford, and Northampton, as well as Chowan, Edgecombe, Martin, Washington and Tyrell counties, cast one of the “aye” votes on the bill.

Smith-Ingram, from Northampton County, is also an ordained minister.

“The bill was much more improved than how it originally came to us,” Smith-Ingram said in an interview with the News-Herald. “I tried to change the date where counties could opt-out in October of 2016 (one year after the bill is scheduled to go into effect), but that amendment failed.  However, counties can pass a local ordinance and my recommendation is that they notify the community, share that, and let that be a local decision.”

Earlier, Smith-Ingram asked the Boards of Commissioners in the eight counties of her district to support a resolution, or write an appeal, to the House and Senate conference committee on the bill allowing counties to opt-out immediately instead of waiting two years, until 2017, as the law is written now.

“They (the bill’s sponsors) don’t want local communities to opt-out immediately because they want to see it generate revenue, they want to see it work,” she added.

Smith-Ingram said larger counties, such as Wake (Raleigh) and Mecklenburg (Charlotte), would be allowed to automatically opt-out early.

“If you’re going to allow that for two counties, why not allow it for the other 98,” the Senator reasoned. “I don’t think you should force any county to do anything.  I think these are decisions that are better made on the local level.”

Smith-Ingram said four counties (Northampton, Chowan, Tyrell, and Washington) sent resolutions when the bill was originally presented not to ban, or prohibit, Sunday gun hunting; while four others, through their Commissioners, expressed they were against it unless amendments were made.

Though not a hunter herself, the Senator said several members of her family hunt, and she voted her constituents over her conscience.

“Initially, I was 100 percent against it, but the amendments that made it workable insured the safety of worshipers,” Smith-Ingram contended. “I just wanted to be sure people are protected, and the provisions are helpful.  It’ll be perfect when counties can either opt-out immediately; or at least opt-out in 2016.”

In the House vote, local District-5 Representative Howard Hunter III of Hertford County voted in opposition to the bill.

The 2015 Outdoor Heritage Bill’s provisions are:

* Create an “Outdoor Heritage Trust Fund” to encourage youths to engage in recreational activities such as hiking, horseback riding, boating, sport shooting, and archery, camping, hunting, trapping and fishing, among other activities. The fund would be supported by voluntary $2 donations made by sportsmen who pay NC Wildlife Commission fees, outdoor access fees from other groups and private donations.

* Establish an Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council within the Commission that will advise state agencies and the legislature on the promotion of youth-oriented outdoor activities. The 11-member council will have three members appointed by the NC Senate leader, three by the House leader, and three by the Governor, one by the Commissioner of Agriculture and one by the chairman of the Commission. Terms will last four years.

* Expand access to public lands by examining ways public-land management affects outdoor recreational activities.

* Create a “Three Strikes and You’re Out” law that requires a two-year mandatory suspension of hunting or fishing license privileges for trespassing a third time or for negligent hunting.

* Allow seven-day (Sunday) hunting with any legal weapon on private land with permission of the owner, with the exceptions of no Sunday waterfowl hunting, no hunting deer with dogs on Sunday, and no hunting within 300 yards of a place of worship or accessory structure.

* Change the Commission rule that defines a bear cub as weighing less than 75 pounds. Current regulations describe a bear cub as weighing 50 pounds or less.

* Declare that the Commission may restrict or prohibit fox hunting with dogs anywhere in the state from April 1-August 1, and order the Commission to prohibit fox hunting at Bladen Lakes State Forest Game Land from April 1-August 1.

* Exempt landowner liability for anyone searching for lost hunting dogs and who may become injured at a landowner’s property while during a search for missing dogs.

* Make mandatory the wearing of body cameras by the Commission’s enforcement officers during execution of warrants and during undercover operations.