In late October, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed Senate Bill 147, which creates stronger hunting related trespassing laws and also allows for limited Sunday hunting opportunities. The bill will return to the Senate for one final vote before heading to Gov. Tom Wolf for his expected signature. Pennsylvania Farm Bureau took a neutral stance on SB 147 before the House made its final vote on the bill. If signed by the Governor, these new changes to the hunting calendar will not take effect until the 2020-2021 hunting season.
How Did We Get Here?
For decades, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has opposed Sunday hunting, based on policies adopted by our members through our grassroots policy development process. In 2018, several county Farm Bureaus submitted resolutions aimed at changing our organization’s stance on Sunday hunting. At our Annual Meeting, voting delegates from all of our 54 county Farm Bureaus voted on one of those member-written resolutions. The resolution adopted by our delegates established a set of criteria that would allow PFB to be neutral on any Sunday hunting legislation, if it includes those criteria. The criteria are: 1) stronger hunting related trespassing laws; 2) limiting Sunday hunting to three days with a focus on deer hunting and 3) requiring written permission for hunting on private property for those three Sundays.
What is the History of Senate Bill 147?
Senate Bill 147 was introduced in January of this year. When it was first introduced, the bill included stronger hunting related trespassing charges, and also gave the Game Commission full authority to allow for Sunday hunting when establishing seasons and bag limits. PFB opposed the bill when it was introduced. Before the Senate voted on the bill in June, it was amended to limit Sunday hunting to three days: one during the deer archery season, one during the rifled deer season and the final determined by the Game Commission. PFB remained opposed to the bill. In early October, the House Game & Fisheries Committee amended the bill to require that hunters obtain prior written permission for hunting on private property for those new Sunday hunting opportunities. Once amended, the bill touched on all of the policy criteria established by our members in 2018. PFB then shifted its position from oppose to neutral.
How does trespassing laws change under Senate Bill 147?
For the most part, Senate Bill 147 is a trespassing bill. While the focus has been on additional Sunday hunting opportunities, Senate Bill 147 makes significant improvement to Pennsylvania’s trespassing laws. Currently, Game Wardens in Pennsylvania cannot cite a hunter for trespassing on private property unless they are caught violating another game code violation. For all practical purposes, hunters were rarely charged with trespassing. Senate Bill 147 makes trespassing a primary offense, meaning it will be easier for Game Wardens to cite hunters who trespass on private property.
What are the penalties under SB 147?
A person who is caught trespassing on private property can be charged with a third-degree summary offense, which carries a minimum penalty of $250. In addition, if a hunter defies an order from a landowner to leave, a hunter can be charged with an ungraded misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a $3,000 fine and six months’ jail time. Secondly, regardless of the type of hunting trespass, a hunter who is charged with trespassing twice in a seven-year period will face an ungraded misdemeanor charge, with a maximum fine of $3,000 and six months’ imprisonment, PLUS the mandatory revocation of hunting privileges for one year. Third, a hunter who fails to obtain prior written permission for the Sundays authorized by the bill will face an additional charge with a minimum $250 fine.
What else is in the legislation?
Several amendments were made to the bill before it was approved in October. First, the bill will make it easier for the Game Commission to partner with municipal police departments on the enforcement of trespassing. Secondly, trespassing charges will not apply to unarmed persons who are on private property for the sole purpose of retrieving a hunting dog. However, those individuals will have to prove, if questioned by law enforcement, that they were attempting to retrieve a dog and were not on private property for other purposes.
Is the purple paint no trespassing issue part of Senate Bill 147?
No. However, Farm Bureau is working with legislative leaders to encourage the quick adoption of House Bill 1772, which would allow landowners to post their property with purple paint stripes on trees and fence posts, instead of the traditional “No Trespassing” signs. Similar laws have been passed in other states, including West Virginia. Farm Bureau believes using purple paint is an easier, and tamper-proof, way of posting property. Legislative leaders have expressed a desire to quickly pass HB 1772.
What are the next steps?
Should Senate Bill 147 become law, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau will encourage the Pennsylvania Game Commission to vigorously enforce hunting related trespassing. If Game Commission staff are given the tools they need to address the problem, we believe they must use them. The Game Commission must demonstrate a strong commitment to cracking down on trespassing while hunting. We hope the new law, coupled with vigorous enforcement, will deter that small subset of hunters who ignore private property rights from willfully trespassing. We will also actively support legislation that expands requirements for written permission, believing that written permission protects landowners and the ethical hunter.